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Unread 30-01-2011, 04:00 PM
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Default Arsenal 2-1 Huddersfield


The FA Cup again demonstrated its enduring sense of romance today, when it threatened to make heroes of League One Huddersfield Town and their striker Alan Lee. But when the final whistle blew, it was its capacity for cruelty that provided the overriding emotion.

Lee Clark's players had distinguished themselves in stretching Arsenal to the limit and when Lee conjured his equaliser, it was easy to see Town, at the very least, holding out for the replay, such was the exuberance of their football. It was Lee's first goal for the club on his 26th appearance, following a £500,000 summer transfer from Crystal Palace. Talk about timing.

Arsenal had been reduced to 10 men by the 42nd-minute dismissal of Sébastien Squillaci for a cynical block on the full debutant Jack Hunt, who was one of many to augment Town's brave efforts. Squillaci will miss Tuesday's Premier League visit of Aston Villa. More worrying, though, was the sight of Samir Nasri limping off on 31 minutes with a hamstring pull. Arsenal's player of the season will be out for at least three weeks.

Lee's goal compelled Arsène Wenger to bring on Cesc Fábregas and, not for the first time, the captain got his team out of a jam. Only four minutes remained when Nicklas Bendtner got on the wrong side of Jamie McCombe inside the area and went down when the defender put an arm round him. The penalty award felt slightly soft but Clark said afterwards that he had no complaints.

Fábregas stepped up and, after a stuttering run, sent the goalkeeper Ian Bennett the wrong way. He had scored Arsenal's last-minute equaliser from the spot in the previous round against Leeds to force a replay. They might be glad to avoid opposition from Yorkshire in the next round.

Clark broke with his usual tactic of playing two strikers in favour of an extra body in midfield, and Arsenal were on the front foot at the outset. With Andriy Arshavin to the fore they exerted plenty of pressure and, after a series of near misses, fashioned the opening goal.

There was a large slice of fortune to it. Bendtner was still stewing about mis-cuing a volley moments earlier and being ridiculed by the Town support when he fastened on to a through ball from Marouane Chamakh. He struck a low shot that was heading wide of the far post but a deflection off Peter Clarke redirected it past the diving Bennett.

It was an own goal but Bendtner nevertheless opted to get his own back by running in front of the travelling fans and cupping a hand to an ear. It was not the classiest thing to do.

The Dane had missed a gilt-edged chance in the 12th minute and Arshavin had watched another effort kiss the outside of the near post. But Clark's team were quick to spring forward and they found Arsenal's defence in unconvincing form. A clutch of individual errors from those in red reinforced the feeling that Arsenal were off colour.

After Nasri had been forced off, the visitors blew a glorious opportunity to equalise. The excellent Joey Gudjonsson flighted in a cross and Anthony Pilkington ghosted in to find the goal at his mercy. The winger, though, having lost Laurent Koscielny, guided a free header wide of a post. Manuel Almunia, making his first start since late September, was relieved.

The red card followed further bright play from Huddersfield. The right-back Hunt surged past the disappointing Kieran Gibbs and inside Koscielny, and he might have got past Squillaci, too, if it were not for the check. Squillaci, who had looked shaky on his return after injury, was high up the field yet he was the last man. It was difficult to argue with the decision. Wenger brought on Alex Song at half-time to play in central defence.

The second period was golden for Town. Against the 10 men, they displayed their passing football and subjected Arsenal to several heart-stopping moments. Clark kicked every ball on the touchline. So did their 5,000 supporters.

The equaliser had been advertised. Arshavin had needed to make a last-ditch tackle on Gary Roberts; Jamie McCombe glanced inches wide and Lee's header forced Almunia into a flying finger-tip save. From the ensuing corner, Gudjonnson shot just past a post.

Arsenal were clinging on. There did not seem to be two divisions between the clubs.

The moment that the visitors had dreamed about came in the 66th minute, from a right-wing corner. Lee tussled with Abou Diaby but he rose to thump an unstoppable header past Almunia.

Wenger, though, sent on Fábregas and Arsenal rallied. Koscielny and Bendtner were each denied by last-ditch blocks before the penalty broke Town hearts. Fábregas won himself no friends by gesturing for McCombe to be shown a card – the defender escaped with yellow – but the Spaniard cared only for progress.


David Hytner

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