Arsene Wenger rested some of his regulars in the FA Cup 4th round match against Brighton and almost paid the price for it. Theo Walcott’s deflected late winner settled a pulsating encounter and sent Arsenal into the FA Cup fifth round at the expense of battling Brighton. Gus Poyet’s Championship side demonstrated exactly why they are play-off contenders as they pushed Arsenal every inch of the way before finally being beaten by substitute Walcott’s strike five minutes from time. Arsenal led twice through Olivier Giroud but in a thunderous atmosphere Brighton bounced back and looked to have secured at least a replay with goals from Ashley Barnes and £2m Argentine striker Leonardo Ulloa on his debut. Arsene Wenger sent on Walcott and Jack Wilshere in the second half to give Arsenal extra thrust and control. And it was Walcott who answered his manager’s call with a volley from the edge of the area after Brighton goalkeeper Casper Ankergren punched a corner out to the edge of the area.
Arsenal’s visit drew a record crowd to The Amex – but they did not see Wilshere, Walcott and Santi Cazorla from the start as they were left on the bench. The Gunner swept to the other end to take the lead after 16 minutes, Giroud measuring a perfect left-foot finish high past Ankergren from 20 yards. To Brighton’s credit, they were not knocked out of their stride by the goal and applied pressure to Arsenal’s struggling left-back Andre Santos as he battled to contain the lively Will Buckley. Brighton, who had replaced injured captain Gordon Greer with Gary Dicker, drew level after 33 minutes as Barnes made amends for his earlier miss by beating Szczesny to David Lopez’s cross to head in.
Arsenal opened with greater intent after the restart, with Lukas Podolski striking the bar from a free-kick, but it proved to be a temporary reprieve as the dangerous Giroud showed held off Adam El-Abd to sweep a finish past Ankergren from close range after 56 minutes. In a thrilling game, Brighton once more showed their strength of character to draw level six minutes later. Arsenal’s slack defending left manager Wenger infuriated on the sidelines as Ulloa stooped to send a diving header past Szczesny from Barnes’s cross. And that’s when Walcott comes in.