Ten Thoughts: Sutton United 0-2 Arsenal

That was a bloody surreal game of football, huh?



I don't know if I've ever been this disgusted with a win before (seriously, hear me out), so we'll do this quick.


1. OK, seriously you guys, this match way messed with the space-time continuum. The first half felt like it took about four seconds to complete - as I said at the pub. apparently time flies when you're patronizing a non-league club to within an inch of its life. But, that second half...my god, ice ages have come and gone faster than that took to finish. When I die and go to hell, that alleged 45 minutes will play on an endless loop for eternity. CAN'T WAIT.


2. The starting XI was a sight to behold, though. Someone finally let Mohamed Elneny and Lucas Perez out of whatever stasis chamber they've been held in, Theo Walcott was up top as the central striker because, you know, that's been proven to work before in the past. The Hyphen Boys were in full effect, and Rob Holding got a permission slip from his parents to be let out of nursery school to play.

I will say this, though. There is literally no permutation of a starting eleven that Arsene Wenger could have put out that would have pleased everyone. Some would have wanted all reserves, some wanted our best eleven to play, some wanted a mix, some wanted X player to play, on and on and on. The poor guy was on a hiding to nothing from the jump here.


3. Speaking of a hiding to nothing, we as a club were really on one with this fixture. Win big, and, well, it's just Sutton United. Have any trouble, and, well, you're having trouble with Sutton United. Just as there was no starting eleven to please everyone, I don't know if there was a result that would have pleased everyone either. Please do take what I have to say next with those grains of salt.


4. That said, I was absolutely enraged with the way that the team approached this match. Especially given that the FA Cup is the only realistic chance of silverware this season...fucking AGAIN...I would have wanted us to tear into this lot and truly make a statement that we were out to win this thing. If it's going to be our trademark competition, shit, it's not the one I would have chosen but let's at least own in it in that case. That...umm...didn't happen here.

What did happen is that we faffed around like this was a testimonial match, and that filled me with rage. It was beyond disrespectful to our opponents, and if they had like 5% more quality they could have seriously punished us for our hubris. More on that in a bit.


5. So, I'll just come out and say it. Theo Walcott was our best player by miles today. Note that this is emphatically not a high bar to cross, but he did have a large part to play in both of our goals. Obviously he scored the second, but the first was far more down to him than the guy who actually scored it.

Look, it was great to get Lucas Perez on the scoresheet - future historians will one day write doctoral dissertations on why he doesn't play far more often than he does. But, that low daisy-cutter is saved by anyone with a functioning central nervous system in most cases. Theo, however, did a clever thing. He came across the keeper's line of sight and tried to change the shot's direction with a back flick. If he had connected, the keeper has no chance...you can't change direction that quickly and get down in time.

He didn't get that done, but even the chance of that happening meant that the keeper had to legislate for it. The thing is, making a save is a split-second action that often happens at a speed beyond conscious thought. If you have to legislate for something like a last-moment deflection, you cannot physically perform the kind of save you'd normally do if you let subconscious thought take the wheel.


6. Now, here's something that infuriated me almost into an early grave - why on earth did Alexis Sanchez come into this game with a 2-0 lead after 70-whatever minutes? Danny Welbeck played no part in this fixture precisely because we were afraid of the effect that the artificial 3G pitch would have on his injury recovery. Mesut Ozil was nowhere near Sutton today because he's too valuable to lose. You'll note that truly irreplaceable pieces of the puzzle such as Hector Bellerin and Laurent Koscielny also didn't play.

Given everything else that has come before, we can only come to the conclusion that Alexis is dictating his own playing time, and that is seriously not on. He is a superlative player, I'm super-glad he's on our team, but he is not the only superlative player out there in the world. For me, it is a serious bloody problem if the inmates are running the asylum to this extent. Arsenal can and will survive without Alexis Sanchez - and if it is at the point where he'll walk if he doesn't get 20 minutes in a game like this? Mate, I'll drive you to fucking Heathrow myself.


7. Right, so back to our ridiculous hubris thing. I've seen some opinions out there that we should have put up a cricket score here, and, well, do you actually understand how football works? The gap between divisions 1 and 5 in England is demonstrably smaller than it is anywhere else in the world. Sutton can play a little, and it shows in the fact that one of our own in Craig Eastmond is one of their star men.

Either way, let's just say for argument that they weren't that good, though. Let's say that it was 11 Bambis on ice skates that some geniuses out there were intimating. Fine. Do the party tricks and complacent bullshit when it's 4-0 or 5-0, as opposed to when it's still within touching distance.

Sutton hit the crossbar in the 65th minute on a shot that very well could have gone in. It'd still have only been 2-1 at that point, but if you get that far, you're only falling asleep on a corner kick away from it being 2-2. And, of course, we've NEVER done that before.

Before that, David Ospina managed to send a short goal kick directly to one of their guys, and Rob Holding ballooned a backpass almost into the top corner of Ospina's net. There is an alternate universe out there where we lost this 3-2. Turn that over in your mind a bit, and ask yourself if this lot gave this the attention it deserved.


8. See, that's the thing. I've done the math and determined that I've played in over 1000 matches over the last 11-12 years that I've been playing football. Of course, it's at a bullshit level compared to what we're talking about here, but man, it's still the same sport. The ball is still round, you know? Anyway, that Ospina pass...as I said in the pub, as dodgy a keeper as I am sometimes, I've *never* made a pass like that in a 1-1 game...or in a final, or a semifinal, or what-have-you.

All of the signs are there that we just turned up and gave the minimum possible effort. There were times where our guys looked absolutely disgusted that they had to play in a fixture like this.

Fuck. I love this club with every fiber of my being but I'm not entirely sure I like this team. Please tell me that you understand that distinction.


9. So, Wayne Shaw. This man, on one hand, is my hero. On the other, apparently the pie-eating thing was a stunt perpetrated by The Sun. There is a layer of hell reserved for that rag, I promise you that.


10. I wonder if we'll take Lincoln City more seriously because we'll be in the comforts of home. Honestly? I kind of doubt it.


Man of the Match: Theo Walcott.

Preview by Numbers: Sutton United v. Arsenal, FA Cup Fifth Round


Gander Green Lane, London
Monday, February 20
2:55 p.m. EST, 19:55 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Sian Massey-Ellis
    • 4th Official: Andy Davies
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Preston North End, 2-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Southampton, 5-0
  • Sutton's Path Here
    • Fourth Qualifying Round: Beat Forest Green Rovers, 2-1
    • First Round: Beat Dartford, 6-3
    • Second Round: Beat Cheltenham Town, 2-1
    • Third Round: Drew AFC Wimbledon, 0-0; won replay, 3-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Leeds United, 1-0
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: D-W-W-L-L-W
  • Sutton's National League Form: W-L-W-D-L-L

No. God, Arsenal, why? I don't want to. Why would your Website even post this?

So now, the last two times Arsenal have won their Champions League group, they have gone on the road for the first leg of the Round of 16 and lost by four clear goals. That is literally insane. And that's the classic cliché, Einstein's definition of insanity, no? Doing the same thing over again in the same way and expecting different results.

It probably wasn't actually Einstein who originated that saying, but the meaning is clear. It's getting a bit exhausting to talk about it. In my preview for Wednesday's match, I opened with a selection of Arsène Wenger quotes from each of Arsenal's six first leg losses dating back to 2010, saying that it only takes 90 minutes to change history. Apparently, it also only takes 11 minutes for Bayern to score three and solidify the prevailing narrative.

So here we are, 10 points out of first in the league and one foot out of Europe in February, again. The FA Cup again looks like Arsenal's only legitimate chance at silverware, but does it even matter? Will it change anything? We're past the trophy drought years now, another FA Cup title isn't going to mask this club's failings anymore. They're all too clear now to hide any longer.

Arsenal Squad News

We need more Jeff! Hi Jeff!
I think the most damning statistic from Wednesday night's loss is one Sean mentioned in his recap: Mesut Özil won more challenges than holding midfielder Francis Coquelin. That is an indictment on the Frenchman, a player who, in my opinion, has looked nothing but second best since returning, possibly too quickly, from injury in January. He must be dropped, in my opinion. On Monday, I'd play Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka; the latter needs minutes after serving that four match ban.

Cup keeper David Ospina should retain his place between the sticks and he deserves to. If it weren't for him, we'd be talking about a much worse loss right now. Laurent Koscielny's injury obviously caused a lot of damage for the Arsenal backline, clearly showing how important he is to the squad. As such, he can't be risked here. At the same time, Gabriel needs to be dropped for a bit, too. Ditto Kieran Gibbs; I can't fathom why he started over Nacho Monreal on Wednesday.

In the forward quartet, Wenger would be well advised to select some players who might do something with the opportunity. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was poor on the wing on Wednesday, but has excelled centrally as of late. Danny Welbeck needs a start. Lucas Pérez should start, if he's fit.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde have appeared in each of Arsenal's previous FA Cup ties this year, the former having started both.

Sutton Squad News

Craig Eastmond, pictured here in 2010 against Shakhtar
Donetsk, made 10 appearances for the Gunners.
Eastmond had an own goal in this, a 2-1 loss.
It can be difficult to find team news for some Championship sides, let alone National League's Sutton United. I scoured their website as much as I could, but couldn't tell you who's carrying an injury or who's unavailable.

That said, their squad does include four products of Arsenal's academy you might remember. The most prominent is Craig Eastmond, who was part of the academy squad that won the double in 2009 (that's the FA Youth Cup and Premier League Academy.) Francis Coquelin and Jack Wilshere were both on that cup winning squad. Eastmond made 10 first team appearances before leaving Arsenal.

The other three are Jack Jebb, who Sutton signed earlier this month, Roarie Deacon, and Jeffrey Monakana, all midfielders.

Current Form

They look just like us!
Regarding Arsenal, well, they've lost three of they're... you know, they ((trails off mumbling incoherently))

Sutton! How about Sutton!? How are they doing? Well, they are 17th in the National League, which is England's fifth tier, which means out of all of the clubs in England, they are 109th. Since Sutton are a non-league side, they are obviously ineligible for the League Cup, but they are involved in the FA Trophy, which consists of sides from tiers five through eight. That said, they were eliminated from this competition in the third round proper (the round of 16) in a replay against Boreham Wood, 5-0.

Since the start of the third round proper in the FA Cup, Sutton have not won a league fixture. They lost to Braintree, drew Eastleigh, then lost to Solihill Moors and Guiseley. The latter match was played on Tuesday, in which Guiseley scored an injury time winner.

Match Facts

Pascal Cygan goes in for a challenge against Farnborough
in 2003. With the match moving to Highbury, Arsenal had to
wear their change kit at home, since it was considered an
away game.
Lincoln City and Sutton United are the eighth and ninth non-league teams since World War II to qualify for the fifth round proper of the FA Cup; no non-league team has advanced past this stage in the modern era. This is the first time two non-league clubs have reached this point in the competition in 129 years. Only Blyth Spartans, in 1978, forced a replay, thereby getting their name in the sixth round draw; incidentally, they would have played Arsenal if they had won the replay against Wrexham.

Arsenal have never played Sutton United before; the last time the Gunners faced a non-league side (which, of course, can only happen in the FA Cup,) it was Farnborough Town in 2003's fourth round. The FA had to move that match to Highbury from Cherrywood Road due to safety concerns and Arsenal ran out 5-1 winners. Arsenal went on to win the FA Cup against Southampton that May.

The Referee

Was Arsenal's 3-3 at Bournemouth a good result or a bad
result, I don't even remember anymore.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal have seen Oliver three times this season, with mixed results. Oliver was in the middle when Arsenal lost to Liverpool 4-3 on the opening day of the season, but he also worked the 3-0 win over Chelsea at the Emirates in September. Arsenal last saw Oliver at Bournemouth in January, in which Arsenal came from 3-0 down to draw 3-3.

This will be the fifth FA Cup tie Oliver has worked for Arsenal; the Gunners have advanced from all four previous ties. Oddly, two of them were against Brighton & Hove Albion, first in 2013 and again in 2015. He also worked the 2014 semi-final penalty shootout win over Wigan and, of course, the 2015 sixth round tie at Old Trafford.

You wouldn't know it from all the memorable wins he has worked, but Arsenal have a terrible record overall with Oliver. In 22 matches all-time with Michael Oliver as the referee, Arsenal have a record of eight wins, eight draws, and six losses. They have just three wins from 16 league games. They are winless away from the Emirates with Oliver in the league, but this isn't a league game, so at least that's not relevant now.

The records I can find of Oliver's matches only go back to 2006, so they don't include the time he spent working outside of the Football League, but unless he worked a Conference South match in 2005/06, it doesn't look like he's ever taken charge of a Sutton United match before.

Around the Fifth Round
  • Saturday (early): Burnley v. Lincoln City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Huddersfield Town v. Manchester City; John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Oxford United; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Millwall v. Leicester City; The Den, London
  • Saturday (late): Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Chelsea; Molineux, Wolverhampton
  • Sunday (early): Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur; Craven Cottage, London
  • Sunday (late): Blackburn Rovers v. Manchester United; Ewood Park, Blackburn

Arsenal NYC are thrilled to announce that we will be hosting Arsenal and Ireland legend Liam Brady for a wide-ranging discussion about football past and present, followed by a Q&A session. The event is February 25 at 1:00 p.m. at Barleycorn and tickets are available here.

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John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is about to take a vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, though he often does not tweet from vacation.