Arsenal 5 Lincoln 0: The fall-out from that numbing 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League was so great that Arsene Wenger had to watch a video of the game three times just to come to terms with what he had seen.
And, although his side scored five here against non-League Lincoln City, it is unlikely he will treat himself to even a second viewing of the victory – but it might define the conclusion of his tenure more than anybody realises just now.
Make no mistake, this was one of the least inspiring 5-0 victories you will ever see in your life. Indeed, the only genuine inspiration came from Lincoln’s first-half performance, which was cruelly undermined by Theo Walcott’s stoppage time opener, which settled Arsenal’s nerves and just about ended the fixture as a contest.
Arsenal went on to stick another four on the spirited visitors, who wilted by the minute after the interval against their multi-million Euro opponents. Job done for the Gunners, who avoided what would have been the crisis to end all crises.
What’s more, it means they are into the FA Cup semi-final for the third time in four seasons and registered their 200th win at the Emirates in what was the stadium’s 300th fixture.
Wenger is now just two victories away from becoming the first manager to win the FA Cup seven times while a top-four finish is well within the club’s grasp with 12 Premier League fixtures still to play. Although the atmosphere around the place is as poisonous as it has ever been during the Frenchman’s tenure, such a return would be deemed satisfactory by many.
Another protest by a section of the club’s fans preceded the game during which a banner reading ‘Wexit’ was unfurled. It is a term that will undoubtedly go down in Arsenal history regardless of what the next few months bring. Another read ‘4th place is not a trophy’ - but the FA Cup is.
When asked about the chances of winning it, and claiming one last trophy before any potential Wexit, Wenger said: “Look, I would love to but at the moment we are far from that.
“No matter if you look at the teams who are out there, it promises us a tough semi-final. So let’s get back to winning habits in the Premier League because we have lost some ground there and we have a difficult game at West Brom next Saturday.
His players will not take much confidence from this victory against a team 87 places below them in the football pyramid, especially given how difficult they found it to break them down in the first half. That was despite Wenger playing just about his strongest available XI., Lincoln almost took the lead in the 28th minute through Nathan Arnold before a deflected Walcott strike handed the hosts the lead.
“In the first half we lacked a little bit,” Wenger said. “I think they were more cautious.
“We were a bit on the back foot in the first half and we were more worried to make a mistake than to force them to make a mistake. That’s true.
“But I thought in the second half we should heighten the tempo in the passing. I saw that they were giving a lot to close us down everywhere.
They came for every single ball and when you move the ball quicker they have big problems in the second half.”
Big problems indeed. Olivier Giroud scored eight minutes after the restart before Lincoln captain Luke Waterfall’s own goal made it 3-0 just before the hour mark. Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey then notched within three minutes of each other and, with 15 minutes left, it looked like it was about to get really ugly for Lincoln.
But that would be that for the home side, who must now turn their attention back to ensuring more Champions League football next season, despite the torture it brought with it this term.
This season’s last-16 exit, via a 10-2 aggregate defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich, was by far the most painful of the past seven eliminations, which have all come at the same stage.
Wenger insists he had no choice but to relive the pain another three times. “I do it to get out of that heated atmosphere and look at things in an objective way,” he explained.
“Sometimes it confirms what people say, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s down to me to take the right distance when people are right and when people are wrong as well.
“I don’t necessarily always need to agree with everybody. But I managed about 2,000 games so I might know a little bit about the game as well.”
For now at least, it seems that Wexit does not yet mean Wexit.
Cech 6; Bellerin 7, Koscielny 6, Mustafi 6, Gibbs 7; Xhaka 5 (61 Coquelin 6), Ramsey 6; Walcott 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6 (27 Ozil 6), Sanchez; Giroud 6 (65 Lucas 6).
Subs not used:
Gabriel, Ozil, Iwobi, Monreal, Martinez, Coquelin.
Farman 7; Raggett 6, Waterfall 5, Hawkridge 6 (78 Marriott 6), Habergham 6; Wood 6, Power 6, Arnold 7, Woodyard 6; Muldoon 6 (55 Margetts 6), Rhead 7 (66 Ward 6).
Subs not used:
Marriott, Margetts, McMenemy, McCombe, Calder, Etheridge.
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