BARCLAYS Premier League leaders Arsenal cruised into the fifth round of the FA Cup last night with a 4-0 win over Steven Pressley’s Coventry City at the Emirates Stadium.
Gunners manager Arsene Wenger had named a strong starting XI, which included club-record signing Mesut Ozil. The Sky Bet League One side were never given a chance to think about causing an upset as a first-half double from Lukas Podolski put them in control of the tie, with Olivier Giroud adding a third late on after coming off the bench and fellow substitute Santi Cazorla crashing in his third goal in two appearances on 89 minutes.
Wenger, who handed a senior debut to 16-year-old midfield prospect Gedion Zelalem – not even born when he first took charge at Highbury – will now regroup his squad for next week’s Premier League trip to Southampton on Tuesday having cruised through without really getting out of second gear.
Arsenal showed their intentions from kick-off, as Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski both went close before the Gunners swept into the lead on 15 minutes when the German forward rounded the goalkeeper to score from a tight angle.
Coventry captain Carl Baker forced a good save from Arsenal No 2 Lukasz Fabianski before Podolski headed in a second at the far post from a corner.
The 5,000 Sky Blues fans held up banners protesting against their move of ‘home’ matches down to Northampton before a part floodlight failure saw supporters across the Emirates Stadium use their smart phones as torches.
Coventry forward Leon Clarke – who has handed in a transfer request – was put clear into the Arsenal penalty area at the start of the second half, but his shot at the near post was saved by the feet of Fabianski and then fired wide having been set up 18 yards out.
There was a brief stoppage when a Coventry fan came on to the pitch, wearing a T-shirt which read “Sisu Out” in protest against the club’s owners.
The tempo of the match dropped during the closing stages, which saw main striker Giroud net his 13th goal of the season from close range before Cazorla – whose double sank Fulham last weekend – crashed in a fourth.
In last night’s other fourth-round tie, Championship side Nottingham Forest were held to a 0-0 draw at their City Ground stadium by League 1 side Preston North End and the two sides will have to do battle again in a week and a half’s time.
Most of the fourth-round action takes place today. Manchester City will launch their imposing strike force against Watford and challenge the struggling Championship club to end their dreams of an unprecedented quadruple. City have scored 106 goals this season to advance on four fronts, and their latest test arrives this afternoon in the shape of Giuseppe Sannino’s Watford, who have only won three of their last 18 games.
Bournemouth, one place below Watford in the Championship, at least have a home tie to relish – a televised match today against seven-times winners Liverpool. The south-coast club will need to evoke the spirit of 1984, when as a third-tier side managed by Harry Redknapp they beat holders Manchester United 2-0 in one of the biggest shocks in the competition’s history.
Conference side Kidderminster Harriers – the only non-league club in the last 32 – travel to 1973 winners Sunderland today. The Harriers had an average attendance of 2,200 last season but are set to take at least 4,000 fans to the north-east, and hope to earn approximately £250,000 from gate receipts, a critical sum for a club that was in financial peril in 2011.
Stevenage Borough, bottom of League 1, welcome Everton to Broadhall Way today hoping to produce the sort of performance that claimed the scalp of Newcastle United in the third round three years ago.
Chelsea’s match with Stoke at Stamford Bridge tomorrow is the last of the fourth-round fixtures, when Jose Mourinho will expect his treble-chasing team to avoid a repeat of their 3-2 defeat by Mark Hughes’s side in the Premier League in December.