Would Arsenal take us apart? To be honest many Albion fans were worried that might happen (remembering last year’s 6-1 beating at Liverpool!), writes Ray Eggleton.
But it didn’t and we were treated to a marvellous cup tie. It wasn’t just the fine five goals. It wasn’t just the impressive play of the Premiership side. It was truly a great FA Cup match with our Seagulls playing a huge part and running the Gunners close in a 3-2 defeat.
On a weekend when several Premiership sides fielding weakened teams were to be dumped out by lower league opposition, Arsene Wenger paid us the compliment of starting a very strong Arsenal side.
On show from the start were Szczesny, Diaby, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscieny, Ramsey, Rosicky, Podolski, Santos, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud. With the game poised at 2–2 the three subs he brought on were all England internationals - Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshire and Kieran Gibbs.
Brighton manager Gus Poyet started our new Argentinean striker Leonardo ‘the Cyclone’ Ulloa upfront, leaving Craig Mackail-Smith on the bench. He also gave second choice keeper Casper Ankergren a game. Casper played well but we did debate whether Tomasz Kuszczak would have bettered the punch away that led to Walcott’s winner.
Ulloa was a success story. He brought a new dimension to the Brighton forward line, holding the ball up and posing a threat in the air, as well as scoring. Giroud’s second goal had put Brighton behind for the second time. Just six minutes later Ashley Barnes sent over a teasing cross from the right and it was Ulloa with a diving header who had the Albion fans jumping up and down with excitement. 2–2 and we could beat mighty Arsenal.
Earlier Brighton had caused their guests some anxious moments before Giroud beat Ankergren with a magnificent shot. Albion fought back, and even saw Ulloa score after good work by Inigo Calderon only to be flagged for offside.
The equaliser soon came when David Lopez sent in a near post corner and Barnes scored with a fine header to leave it poised at 1-1 at half time.
A record crowd of 27,113 (including nearly 4,000 Gunners’ fans) had packed into the Amex for what was fast becoming a classic.
Gus Poyet had to shuffle his side following injuries to Gordon Greer and then Will Buckley, and after Giroud and then Ulloa had made it 2-2, Wenger brought on Walcott, who alongside Wilshire made Arsenal even more impressive.
For me their third goal and winner was lucky. There was only five minutes on the clock when Ankergren’s punch from a corner only reached Walcott. His shot took a huge deflection off El-Abd’s chest and inside the opposite post.
It was tough on Brighton who fought to the end. Mackail-Smith had a penalty shout turned down in added time as Arsenal moved into the Fifth Round.
But our Seagulls did us proud in what was our first defeat of 2013.
Saturday sees us back to the Championship and up at Sheffield Wednesday. Can we close the gap to the play-offs?