Arsenal's sleeping beauties see off Sunderland
Arsenal doze for most of match and then deliver magic
(Joel Campbell 25, Aaron Ramsey 72, Olivier Giroud 75)
(Jeremain Lens 17)
Arsenal sleep when they're winning.
Arsene Wenger's men are developing the curious ability to chase cups whilst comatose.
Last weekend, they defeated Newcastle United in the English Premier League by waking long enough from their fitful dozing to find first gear.
Last night, they repeated the trick, sneaking a 3-1 victory past Sunderland when no one was looking.
They won without really waking. They produced moments of real magic whilst napping.
The FA Cup kings of the last two seasons could win the tournament for the third time in a row as sleeping beauties.
Without playing well, without really raising the roof, a sweat or the pulses of anyone watching, Arsenal eased their way into the fourth round against opponents who matched them for more than 70 minutes.
Even the most blinkered of Gunners followers would be hard pressed to recall spells of domination from the hosts, or a standout player beyond two outstanding assists from Hector Bellerin.
Sunderland needed just 17 minutes to do what Newcastle could only threaten last weekend.
The Magpies pecked away at the drifting Gunners, revealing a worrying lethargy in the title contenders' play. But the Black Cats underlined Arsenal's tendency to stutter through contests.
Laurent Koscielny, of all people, gifted the visitors the lead. The centre back was the only Gunner to emerge from the dull Newcastle contest with his dignity intact, but that doesn't mean he's Johan Cruyff.
And yet, Koscielny attempted a clumsy Cruyff turn on the edge of the box.
Kieran Gibbs had played a simple ball to feet, but Koscielny's brain fade led to a suicidal drag back. Jeremain Lens pinched possession and stole the lead.
Lens' finish was as assured as Koscielny's mistake was awful.
Perversely, Wenger might have appreciated the psychological value of going a goal down.
Complacency has crept into Arsenal's game. They can't seem to leave home without it.
But the shock to the sleepy system had the desired effect. On 24 minutes, the hosts were level.
Alex Iwobi, playing in only his second game, released Theo Walcott along the left.
His cutback was clinical, but the finish from Joel Campbell was even better. The forgotten Gunner ghosted across the far side of the area to dispatch a smart strike.
The Costa Rican remains an exasperating figure at Arsenal. After four and a half years at the club, it was only his third goal in Gunners colours.
His finishing is either effortless or erratic, a head-scratching striker in search of a middle ground, but he slowly grew into this game.
Few others did. With Sam Allardyce making seven changes and Wenger five, continuity and consistency were always going to be hard to come by.
Sunderland weren't helped by the worst away kit in living memory. The lime green was the lurid kind usually found splattered on Clarke Quay pavements on a Sunday morning.
Allardyce's cautious 4-5-1 was understandable, but it left Arsenal camped in their opponent's half without a cutting edge.
With Mesut Oezil and Alexis Sanchez both absent, Arsenal were light on both artists and assassins.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wriggled free long enough to send a shot against the post in the 58th minute, but Walcott wasted the rebound. Both men inadvertently provided clear examples of Arsenal's lack of attacking depth.
The Gunners' underlying weakness was exposed just a minute later when Steven Fletcher's header rattled the crossbar.
MOMENTS OF MAGIC
But the hosts' overriding strength could be the stuff of FA Cup winners. They muster those moments of magic when it matters.
In the 72nd minute, one sublime, electrifying move killed Sunderland's resistance.
The flying Bellerin swopped passes with Campbell and kept going, reaching the ball to cross perfectly for Aaron Ramsey. The substitute lost his marker and swept the ball home from close range.
This was a glimpse of the old Arsenal; an intelligent combination of fast, slick movement, flawless passing and exquisite finishing.
Three minutes later, Bellerin took flight once more, collecting a long pass in his stride before finding Olivier Giroud, who tapped home.
Without doing much else, Giroud keeps scoring and Arsenal keep winning.
Greater consistency surely needs to be found to sustain the title challenge.
But a third consecutive FA Cup could be there for the taking.
ARSENAL: Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Paulista, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers (Mikel Arteta 66), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Campbell (Jeff Raine Adelaide 81), Alex Iwobi (Aaron Ramsey 66), Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud
SUNDERLAND: Jordan Pickford, Patrick van Aanholt, John O’Shea (Billy Jones 65), Sebastian Coates, DeAndre Yedlin, Lee Cattermole (Yann M’Vila 57), Jeremain Lens, Ola Toivonen, Duncan Watmore, Danny Graham, Steven Fletcher (Charalampos Mavrias 76)