Van Persie rewards captaincy decision with cup brace

Arsenal 3 Plymouth 1

Arsenal 3 Plymouth 1

Stand-in captain Robin van Persie scored two goals as Arsenal finally saw off the brave challenge of Coca-Cola Championship Plymouth 3-1 in today's FA Cup third-round tie at Emirates Stadium today.

The Dutchman struck at the start and the end of the second half to secure safe passage into Monday's draw after Argyle captain Karl Duguid had grabbed a lifeline for the West Country side and their superb 9,000-strong support.

Arsenal have not made the final of the FA Cup since they won it in 2005 - the last trophy lifted by Wenger's men.

Given their current 10-point deficit in the Premier League, this famous old competition could now represent the most likely avenue to more silverware in 2009 - and as such Wenger named a strong side, led by van Persie in the absence of injured skipper Cesc Fabregas.

Arsenal saw plenty of the ball as the hosts dominated the opening exchanges.

There was a half chance on five minutes when Aaron Ramsey's scuffed shot found its way through to van Persie in the six-yard box. But the angle was tight and Plymouth keeper Romain Larrieu made a smart double block at the near post.

The home side remained patient in their build-up, and in the 15th minute they carved open the Plymouth defence.

Wales youngster Ramsey charged into the penalty box before laying the ball off to Emmanuel Eboue - and it took a brilliant reaction save from Larrieu to deny the much-maligned Ivory Coast midfielder.

Van Persie glanced a header just wide at the far post from Samir Nasri's cross as the Gunners pressed again.

Abou Diaby's quick turn in from the right corner saw him flash the ball across goal, but Nicklas Bendtner was unable to make contact.

William Gallas' angled effort was blocked first by Chris Baker and then the goalkeeper as the Plymouth goal continued to lead a charmed life.

Larrieu beat away a 20-yard strike from Ramsey before Arsenal were forced into a change on the half-hour when Mikael Silvestre limped off, to be replaced by Kieran Gibbs.

It was then Lukasz Fabianski's turn to take centre stage when the Pole, making a rare start, acrobatically tipped over Paul Gallagher's chip from the edge of the penalty area which was dropping in under the bar.

Arsenal finally grabbed the lead just 53 seconds after the restart through van Persie.

The Dutchman was left unmarked in the six-yard box at a corner, taken by Samir Nasri on the left, and promptly crashed a bullet header into the roof of the net.

Before the Championship side had time to regroup, it was 2-0.

This time van Persie turned provider, spinning his marker down the right side of the box and sending a low centre across goal.

With Bendtner lurking, David Gray - the on-loan Manchester United defender making his debut - could only manage to divert the ball past the goalkeeper on 50 minutes.

Arsenal, though, were themselves then guilty of poor defending to immediately allow Argyle back into the match.

A deep free-kick from the left was punched only half clear by Fabianski. Gray, on the overlap down the right, picked up the loose ball and whipped it across a crowded six-yard box, where skipper Duguid arrived at the far post to volley into the net - and send the massed ranks of green behind the goal into delirium.

The Premier League side were clearly rattled and for a spell lost their composure.

Plymouth continued to press for an equaliser, testing the resolve of the Arsenal backline with several high balls deep into the danger area.

Midfielder Rory Fallon tried his luck with a 20-yard curling effort, which was just wide of the top corner.

Arsenal fans sensed they would need a third goal to make the tie safe - and Ramsey was just off-target with his angled shot on the turn before Marcel Seip cleared Nasri's effort off the line after the keeper had raced out of his area.

It was finally 3-1 with six minutes left when Nasri chipped the ball through to van Persie. His lob was well saved by Larrieu, but the Dutchman was first to the rebound, which he smashed into the empty net.

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