Seagulls knock Newcastle out again
Wenger says there is little separating top teams now.
Brighton & Hove Albion (1) 2
Newcastle United 0
The FA Cup hopes of Premier League team Newcastle United floundered on England’s south coast for the second year in a row as Championship club Brighton and Hove Albion kicked off third-round action with a 2-0 victory yesterday.
Andrea Orlandi gave Brighton a half-time lead and Will Hoskins added a second for the Seagulls three minutes from time, as Brighton followed up their 1-0 victory over Newcastle in last season’s fourth round.
Newcastle, who are stuck in a woeful run of league form during which they have plummeted towards the relegation zone, fielded a below-strength side and offered little threat.
Their efforts to get back into the tie were undermined by Shola Ameobi’s second-half dismissal for a second yellow card.
Second tier team Brighton are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their run to the FA Cup final when they lost a replay to Manchester United.
There were 28 other third round ties yesterday, with holders Chelsea beginning their defence away to Southampton.
Today, Arsene Wenger’s record in the FA Cup means the competition will always be special to the Arsenal manager but this season it could be critical to his efforts to prove he is still the right man to lead the club.
Wenger has already emerged from one sustained bout of criticism this season that intensified when his side were beaten at home last month by Swansea.
A month on from that defeat, Arsenal will head to South Wales for today’s FA Cup third-round meeting with Swansea in better shape following an improved run of form in the league.
However, they remain in sixth place in the Premier League, 18 points adrift of leaders Manchester United and are destined once again to play a supporting role in the title race.
Eliminated from the League Cup by League Two minnows Bradford and facing Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League, the FA Cup represents Arsenal’s best chance of ending their eight-year wait for silverware.
Their last trophy came in this competition in 2005 – the fourth time Wenger had lifted the cup with Arsenal – and another triumph this season would rekindle some of the support the manager has lost in recent years.
An early exit though, would put increased pressure on the Frenchman’s transfer dealings this month, with Arsenal’s supporters frustrated at the failure to adequately replace favourites Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas.
And Wenger, who has allowed striker Marouane Chamakh to join West Ham on loan until the end of the season, admits this is not a time to rest players.
“I will play the team I think has the best chance to win the game, without considering any rotational desire,” Wenger said.
“If you look at Queens Park Rangers’ victory at Chelsea on Wednesday, you see there is nothing between the teams now.
“The teams are well-organised, they are physically strong and if you are not at your best, you don’t win the game. It is the same for everybody.
“Manchester United are top of the league but they have already lost three games this season, so I believe the teams at this level are very competitive.
“Then, the FA Cup is always something special because it is something exciting.
“It is watched all over the world and it has a special history in England, which I have always respected.
“I am always sad when we don’t win it or when we go out and we will put in our maximum effort on Sunday to win the game.”
Swansea’s victory at the Emirates Stadium was achieved thanks to two goals from Michu and the Spanish forward will again pose the greatest threat to Arsenal’s chances of making the fourth round.
That result will ensure Arsenal approach the game with a degree of trepidation and Swans boss Michael Laudrup is in no doubt the pressure will be on Wenger’s side.
“When you are a top team, you are obliged to at least compete until the end to win things,” Laudrup said.
“There can only be one winner in all competitions and two teams in a final, and they are expected to at least be in the semifinals, so there is more pressure at this stage on Arsenal than on Swansea. That is obvious. Looking from the outside, Arsenal are a big club and big clubs are obliged to play in finals.
“They played a (League Cup) final the year before last and they lost, but it is many years since they won a trophy, which is why they will come here with the best team they can put on the pitch.”
Another third-round match today sees Liverpool visit Mansfield.