Arsenal booked a safe passage into the next round of the FA Cup with a routine 2-0 win over battling Portsmouth at Fratton Park.
Goals in each half from Sokratis and Eddie Nketiah was enough to ensure we stayed in the hat for this famous old cup, despite the best efforts of Kenny Jackett’s Pompey.
Mikel Arteta named a strong side for his travelling side, and yet managed to rotate sufficiently from our last game. Pablo Mari made his debut at centre-back and Sokratis came into the four man defence.
Our midfield comprised Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, with Jo Willock, Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson all getting a runout too. It was a very young side, but their professionalism will have not gone unnoticed by Arteta.
The first half especially showed Arsenal toughing it out, with only one shot on target. Bukayo Saka again was our standout performer, but his electric bursts down the left failed to reap any reward in terms of goals.
Pompey at times looked to be a danger, but on the few occasions they did manage to pierce our defence, Emi Martinez was alert enough to quell the danger with a foray out of his box ahead of any home attacker.
It was heading for a stalemate at half time and that would have played exactly into Jackett’s gameplan, but a corner from Nelson eventually fizzed in a fantastic cross that was finished emphatically by Sokratis on the volley.
It was deep in first half stoppage time, and the last action of the half. It sucked the life out of the home side, but the home fans were singing loud and proud despite the scoreline.
They continued to sing loudly even when we scored our second early in the second half.
It was Nketiah who doubled our advantage, finding space at the near post to squeeze home a shot that found its way into the net. We were now filling with confidence and from the moment Nketiah scored the goal, there was only one clear winner.
Chances came and went for Arsenal to add more gloss to the scoreline, but Nelson and Saka from out wide were just off target with their efforts. It didn’t really matter though, as Arsenal were zipping the ball around with glee – Portsmouth were chasing shadows and our boys were clearly enjoying themselves.
The game fizzled out in the last ten minutes, as Pompey couldn’t muster the goal their home support deserved and we couldn’t add the third our play warranted.
The bottom line though, was that we had guaranteed a safe passage and stayed in the Cup.
What lessons can we learn from the 90 minutes?
Nelson showing teeth
The wideman has had to be content with sporadic appearances since returning from injury a month or so ago. Nelson started this game though and was a constant menace on the right, with Saka spreading Pompey thin on the left. Nelson showed no fear and went at his marker every opportunity – more of this and he can get used to more minutes on the pitch
Mari Sound on debut
The new signing made his debut in this game and showed that it will take more to ruffle his feathers than a vociferous home crowd. Mari dealt with everything that came his way and looked at home in our backline. A solid debut, but he will have harder tests, so he can’t be judged to strictly here.
Eddie scores again
There will be plenty who will implore us to buy a backup striker in the summer, or move Martinelli up top, but while Nketiah continues to deliver, there is no need to change anything. The young striker performed the sole topman role well and again got on the scoresheet. He continues to prove people wrong, good luck to the kid.
Still In It
The performance was decent enough on our travels – so often the scenes of our woe in the last two seasons – but all that mattered was that we stayed in the cup. We have all of our eggs in this last remaining basket now.
Next up is a return to the Premier League as we welcome West Ham to The Emirates.