London: Arsenal ended Lincoln City’s historic FA Cup run and eased the pressure on Arsene Wenger with a 5-0 victory over the valiant non-league side in Saturday’s quarter-finals.
After Tuesday’s humiliating Champions League exit against Bayern Munich, Wenger had endured calls for his resignation and the Gunners boss must have breathed a sigh of relief as Arsenal avoided even greater ignominy.
A contest that should have been a mismatch given the supposed gulf in class between fifth-tier Lincoln and their illustrious opponents was actually a tense affair until first-half stoppage time when Theo Walcott put Arsenal ahead.
But even after goals from Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey and a Luke Waterfall own goal, the day belonged to the fifth-tier leaders, for whom the competition has generated a £1.6 million ($1.9m) cash windfall.
For a club whose record signings, Dean Walling and Tony Battersby, each cost £75,000 in 1997 and 1978, respectively, that is quite a sum.
The 9,000 travelling Lincoln supporters certainly brought their voices and generated more noise than the Emirates Stadium has heard during many Premier League games this season.
Almost 10 minutes had elapsed before Arsenal created an opening. Hector Bellerin slid the ball along the ground from the right-hand side but Ramsey swept his shot just wide of the post.
Four minutes later Walcott connected sweetly with a volley only for Lincoln keeper Paul Farman to plunge to his left to palm the ball on to the same upright.
Arsenal were forced into a change after 26 minutes, although if the non-league side were glad to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain go, the sight of German World Cup-winner Mesut Ozil coming on to replace him was less welcome.
Lincoln’s compactness in defence was limiting Arsenal to very few chances.
And in contrast to Lincoln’s collective discipline, inspired by the organisational skill of their impressive young manager Danny Cowley, it was the Arsenal players who were guilty of impetuosity in the tackle, with both Granit Xhaka and Laurent Koscielny booked for lunging challenges.
Nathan Arnold, who scored the winning goal against Ipswich Town in the third-round replay, came closest to a goal for the visitors as the half-hour approached.
Cutting inside Kieran Gibbs, he forced Petr Cech to fling himself to his right for a fine save.
Ramsey sent a stabbed effort over the bar as half-time approached, but just as it seemed that Lincoln would deservedly reach the interval on level terms, the Premier League side struck.
Farman had difficulty in dealing with an Ozil cross and from the resulting corner a goalmouth melee ended with Gibbs setting up Walcott to put Arsenal ahead with a deflected effort.
Wenger’s side re-emerged with a sense of urgency that had been largely absent in the first half.
The goal that effectively sealed Arsenal’s passage to a Wembley semi-final arrived after 53 minutes.
Bellerin swapped passes with Sanchez before laying the ball back for Giroud to sidefoot home.
Five minutes later, Arsenal led 3-0. Gibbs drove in a low hard cross that was deflected into his own net by the unfortunate Waterfall.
Sanchez then made it four after 73 minutes, riding two challenges before curling home beautifully.
The scoreline began to look unjustifiably one-sided when Ramsey walked the ball home following a Sanchez cross.
At the other end, midfielder Alan Power forced a save from Cech as Lincoln sought the most glorious of consolation goals.
Arsenal progressed to Wenger’s relief, but it is Lincoln who will take home all of the memories.