London: When Arsene Wenger named a full-strength lineup to face Lincoln City, any hopes the fifth-tier side had of competing with Arsenal should have been extinguished.
But the first non-league side to reach the FA Cup quarterfinals for 103 years defied the odds again, making its more illustrious opponent toil for 45 minutes on Saturday before Theo Walcott scored.
After conceding five against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, Arsenal managed to score five itself – albeit against an English minnow – to avoid further embarrassment for Wenger on another day of fan protests against the manager. With a 5-0 victory, Arsenal booked a trip to Wembley Stadium to give Wenger a chance of silverware in what could be his last season in charge.
“We were a bit nervous because the confidence drops when you don’t have good results,” Wenger said. “I didn’t want to gamble today, because I knew that it was very important to win.
“It was difficult; they knocked Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley out. They had a very direct game but they had clarity about what they wanted to do and they did that very well.”
Manchester City also reached the cup semifinals with a 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough secured by David Silva and Sergio Aguero. The remaining quarterfinals see Tottenham host third-tier side Millwall on Sunday, and Chelsea host Manchester United the following night.
Lincoln had already beaten Premier League opposition in Burnley along with two second-tier sides to earn its day out at one of Europe’s biggest clubs in front of 60,000 fans.
“We have to take a lot from our first-half performance. We restricted Arsenal to limited chances and had a good one of our own,” Lincoln manager Danny Cowley said.
“It felt like he brought 15 players on during the second half – it was one hell of a long 45 minutes for us. It was a football education.”
It required a stroke of luck for Arsenal to finally break down its opponent, as Walcott’s side-footed effort deflected off a defender out of the reach of impressive goalkeeper Paul Farman.
With Walcott’s goal having settled the nerves, Arsenal relaxed and Hector Bellerin set up Olivier Giroud for the second. Kieran Gibbs’s cross was then deflected into his own net by Lincoln captain Luke Waterfall.
Alexis Sanchez added a fourth with a curling effort from outside the box before setting up Ramsey to add the fifth just three minutes later. Unperturbed, Lincoln’s fans continued to sing in support of their team as a cup run that began in October in the competition’s fourth qualifying round came to an end.
While Wenger and his players earned some brief respite after crashing out of the Champions League to Bayern Munich this week, the day undoubtedly belonged to Lincoln and its 9,000 supporters who travelled to London from England’s east Midlands.