Preston Push Arsenal To Limit
Preston North End 1 – 2 Arsenal
Olivier Giroud scored his 9th goal of the season and his fourth in as many games to give Arsenal a just-about-deserved victory.
For forty-five minutes, it looked like Preston were going to claim the biggest scalp of the 3rd round as Callum Robinson’s seventh-minute goal separated the two sides. It could and should have been more, particularly when Hugill spurned a glorious opportunity to extend the home side’s lead.
Not that it was all one-way traffic. Giroud had the goal at his mercy but his shot ended up as more of a cross than anything else while Aaron Ramsey’s powerful header was straight at Maxwell. A foot or two either side might have been a different story but it wasn’t to be on this occasion. Preston’s lead remained intact.
At the end of the first half, the players left the pitch to the sound of Deepdale rocking and the away end bemoaning how the Arsenal performance was shocking. It was an atmosphere which lasted just 45 seconds of the second half. Ramsey, on the edge of the area, curled a shot around two defenders into the side of the net and the Preston bubble was burst. Arsenal turned the screw and tellingly, the home side failed to register a single shot in the second half such was our dominance.
The victory came as the game headed towards a replay. Arsenal dominated the second half but squandered numerous chances, as well as being thwarted by stoical Preston defending. Bodies were thrown in front of the ball, last-ditch defending; it was a rearguard action at times by the increasingly tired Championship side. In the end, they were undone by a moment of genius from Lucas Perez.
With a minute remaining, a long ball was won in the air by Giroud whose flick was latched onto by Perez. As he ran out of pitch, a calm backheel fed his strike partner and Giroud’s shot deflected into the net. The cruellest intervention by a Preston defender, the ball spinning agonisingly away from Maxwell’s reach. The travelling support, in a banked stand behind the Preston goalkeeper in the second half, erupted as much in relief as celebration.
Post-match, Arsène took the unusual step of criticising the players first half performance. Usually, there’s an oblique reference to ‘could have done better’ but this was full-on fury:
“We are top level Premier League and we were dominated in the first half.”
And he was absolutely right to be angry. It was 45 minutes which was worse than those played at Bournemouth by a long way which underlines the depths to which we’d plummeted at Deepdale. The players deserve credit for responding; too often in the past, we’ve seen them slink into the shadows and performances deteriorate.
Ramsey’s early equaliser in the second half helped immensely. We didn’t have the chance to become frustrated but Preston certainly had ample time to become timid in attack. Their fundamental problem was the speed with which we recycled possession so any clearance was immediately returned into their half, rekindling the pressure which had just been relieved.
A replay was avoided and that suits our purposes entirely. Tonight we’re in the draw for the fourth round and that made Arsène a happy man.