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Non-league Lincoln City’s astonishing run in the FA Cup came to an end as Arsenal remain on course for a 13th title by reaching the semi-finals.
Lincoln, 88 places below their Premier League opponents, held their own for much of the first half and even went close to scoring when Petr Cech saved Nathan Arnold’s curled effort.
However, Theo Walcott’s deflected strike gave the Gunners the lead on the stroke of half-time and Olivier Giroud put the hosts in control with a clinical strike just after the break.
Lincoln’s dreams of a fight back were dashed when Luke Waterfall scored an own goal, turning in Kieran Gibbs’ cross.
Alexis Sanchez added a brilliant fourth, expertly placing the ball beyond Lincoln goalkeeper Paul Farman’s reach, before Aaron Ramsey completed the win when he tapped in from Sanchez’s cross.
It was ultimately a routine victory for Arsenal and perhaps eased some of the pressure on Arsene Wenger, who is bidding for his seventh FA Cup triumph as Gunners boss.
A protest was held before the game by around 200 fans urging the club to not give the 67-year-old a new contract when his current deal expires this summer.
Relive Arsenal’s emphatic win against Lincoln City
Lincoln make history, whatever the score
Lincoln have undoubtedly been the story of this season’s FA Cup. They came through eight games, beating Premier League Burnley and Championship high fliers Brighton along the way to become the first non-league side to reach the quarter-finals of the competition in 103 years.
Against an Arsenal side that had reached the semi-finals 28 times previous, few would normally have given Lincoln a chance.
But a run of just two wins in their last seven games, coupled with the discontent felt by some Arsenal fans towards Arsene Wenger, gave the minnows reason to believe an upset could be achievable.
The club’s fans clearly felt that to be the case as they travelled in huge numbers to the Emirates, and for large periods of the first half their voices were the only ones that could be heard.
The dream was alive. For 44 minutes
On the pitch, Lincoln were impressive, sticking to a game plan that limited Arsenal to only one real chance in the first half half hour, when Walcott hit the post.
There was a momentary silence around the ground when Lincoln threatened to snatch the unlikeliest of leads as Arnold’s smart footwork left Laurent Koscielny on the floor, and he took aim at the far corner – but Cech managed to stretch across to make the save.
A goalless draw at half-time would have been a deserved reward for their performance, but Walcott’s strike appeared to knock their confidence and in the second half it looked every bit the tie involving a Premier League side and a team four divisions below them.
The FA Cup dream may be over for Lincoln but they could yet walk out at Wembley this season. They are in the semi-finals of the FA Trophy and now switch attention to their first-leg tie at York on Tuesday.
Protests again but players step up
Arsenal could still finish the season with silverware, but success in the FA Cup is no longer enough for a sizeable number of Gunners fans.
They are out of the Champions League and a top-four finish is far from guaranteed as they currently sit fifth, two points behind Liverpool.
Those fans who feel Wenger has taken the side as far as they can go made their feelings known before the game with a protest – their second in a week after around 200 supporters expressed their frustration before the Champions League last-16 second leg tie with Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
But there was support for Wenger inside the ground as some fans held ‘In Wenger we trust’ banners, while on the pitch his players stepped up after a slow start.
Mesut Ozil was particularly influential after his 27th minute introduction and Sanchez, whose long-term future at the Emirates is reportedly in doubt, impressed with a fine goal and an assist.
Man of the match – Mesut Ozil
What they said
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “There was always a level of anxiety because these boys are unpredictable. They knocked out Burnley, Ipswich and Brighton, so we have to respect them.
“It was all us in the second half but you have to congratulate Lincoln for what they have achieved in the FA Cup.
“We have been short of confidence after some disappointing results recently. When the confidence was there in the second half the quality came back.”
Lincoln manager Danny Cowley: “I thought we did really well for the first 45 minutes. It is very hard to get negative against them because they have such world-class players. At 45 minutes I thought we had limited them in chances and we were hoping to get in 0-0 but they got the goal.
“Arsenal were frightening in the second half and for us it was a pleasure to see world-class players first hand. It felt like Arsene Wenger had brought 15 players on. If we can learn from this experience today and throughout this FA Cup journey we will be better players and better people.
“The best [in this run] was at the end, sharing a moment with our supporters. Our supporters were world class. They were brilliant. We are winners and don’t like losing but when we can draw breath we will be proud.”
Former Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown on Match of the Day
Lincoln revitalised the FA Cup, their run was magical. Arsenal came in wounded, there was a lack of confidence early on, but the goal just before half-time was perfect and settled them down. Them needing that goal to settle them down was some compliment to Lincoln, but the Gunners played with a swagger in the second half. Still, Lincoln can hold their heads very high.
Former England winger Trevor Sinclair on Match of the Day
A National League team getting to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup? It is a fantastic achievement. I am sure everyone at the club will be so proud, and it doesn’t happen by accident. They kept Arsenal at bay for 45 minutes.
The players and fans will remember it for the rest of their lives.
Arsenal’s 200th win – the stats
- This was Arsenal’s 300th competitive fixture at the Emirates.
- The Gunners registered their 200th win in competitive games at the Emirates (D61 L39).
- Lincoln City failed to find the back of the net in an FA Cup game (excl. qualifiers) for the first time in nine games, since losing 5-0 to Plymouth in November 2013.
- Arsenal have reached the last four of the FA Cup for the third time in the last four seasons.
- Theo Walcott has scored 17 goals in all competitions this season; only in 2012/13 did he score more for the Gunners (21).
- Alexis Sanchez has had a hand in 35 goals this season (21 goals, 14 assists), more than any other PL player in all comps.
- In his last 20 games in all competitions, Sanchez has either scored or assisted 22 goals (13 goals, nine assists).
- Olivier Giroud has bagged four goals in total in his last four FA Cup starts.
- Arsenal’s games this season in all competitions have produced a total of 145 goals (95 scored, 50 conceded), more than any other Premier League side.
- Mesut Ozil registered his first assist for Arsenal in any competition since January 22nd (vs Burnley), after a run of five games without one.
Arsenal are back in Premier League action as they travel to West Brom on Saturday, 18 March (12:30 GMT) looking for their first league win since 11 February. Lincoln, meanwhile, face York in the FA Trophy on Tuesday.