All’s well that ends well for Arsenal

Preston North End 1 Arsenal 2: Danny Welbeck swapped the gloom and depression of his seemingly endless battle to come back from injuries for the gloom and depression of a rainy, misty Lancashire January evening — but his appearance may well have been the biggest plus of Arsene Wenger’s day.
All’s well that ends well for Arsenal

The Frenchman’s proud record of never having lost a third round tie in 20 years in England was in danger until Olivier Giroud snatched a last-minute winning goal in a pulsating tie that lit up Deepdale.

But by then, Wenger had been able to throw on Welbeck, 26, for his first action of the season having recovered from a knee ligament injury, a problem which followed the England forward missing the first half of last season with another knee injury.

His return and, Arsenal and England supporters will hope, continued fitness could be key to the Gunners’ season and, as Wenger pointed out, Welbeck’s own mental well-being after the pain, literal and metaphorical, of two seasons largely lost to injury.

“I think he went from certainly desperation because the setback he had was absolutely atrocious,” said Wenger. “The patience you need when you’re that age was terrible and to miss the European Championship on top of that, after missing the start of the season...

“But he worked hard and certainly it will make him stronger.

“But you have to go through it and that was a very difficult moment for him, He suffered a lot but I hope, touch wood, he now will have a clean career.”

Wenger spent hours talking with the former Manchester United star but the manager admitted that, ultimately, Welbeck had to deal with his fightback on his own and was even sent away from the first team squad to avoid having to see healthy team mates in action every day.

“We talked with him of course but when players are injured they are a little bit out of my sight,” said Wenger. “In a way as well, a football club when a player has a long-term injury, sometimes it is better you get him out and away.

“Even if he is with other players, it is players who are injured as well, when he comes in here, he sees everybody go out there and has to stay. A football club is built for people who are competitive so for some mentally it is difficult so we let him go outside as well and mixed his time.

“Of course we spoke with him a lot but at the end of the day, when something like that happens to you, you have to deal with it on your own. But we tried to support him of course.”

Welbeck almost scored with a long-range shot that was tipped over by keeper Chris Maxwell but, by then, Giroud had already sealed the victory.

Yet, there had been no sign of that recovery in the first half when Preston outplayed Arsenal and took the lead through Callum Robinson only for the much-improved Gunners to equalise through Aaron Ramsey seconds after the restart.

Little wonder that for neutrals, and obviously Wenger himself, the FA Cup still retains a special place in the English football consciousness.

“What more do you want?” said Wenger. “I think it was a great tie today and I came here with a team of quality, 80% of the players who played today played at Bournemouth.

“I don’t know why people do not have a positive opinion about it. I would have been devastated to go out tonight so we are focused to compete, really.

“Somebody reminded me yesterday I have never gone out in the third round in 20 years, that means because I care about the competition. For me there is no debate. It’s a fantastic competition.”

Preston made sure that was the case with a first half performance which merited more than a solitary goal lead and which was inspired, to a large degree, by Ireland international Aiden McGeady.

The Everton winger is on loan at Deepdale having struggled to establish himself at Goodison Park although team-mate Ben Pearson is mystified why.

“He’s some player, especially in the Championship,” said Pearson. “When he’s on his game, he’s unstoppable, he should really be a Premier League player.

“The big thing is he gives you that breathing space, when you ‘re under the cosh and you give him the ball he’ll keep it for a bit. And he’s always creating chances.”

PRESTON (4-4-2):

Maxwell 7; Vermijl 6, Clarke 7, Huntington 7, Cunningham 6; Gallagher 6 (Browne 59, 6), Pearson 8, Johnson 7 (Horgan 80, 6), McGeady 7; Hugill 7 (Makienok 75, 6), Robinson 7.

Subs not used:

Lindegaard, Doyle, Spurr, Pringle.

ARSENAL (4-2-3-1) :

Ospina 6; Maitland-Niles 7 (Holding 90), Mustafi 5, Gabriel 6, Monreal 6; Ramsey 7, Xhaka 7; Perez 8 (Reine-Adelaide 90), Iwobi 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Welbeck 83, 7); Giroud.

Subs not used:

Martinez, Jenkinson, Dasilva, Willock.

Referee:

R Madeley 6

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