Sutton United's English midfielder Craig Eastmond (L) vies with Arsenal's English defender Rob Holding during the English FA Cup fifth round football match between Sutton United and Arsenal at the Borough Sports Ground, Gander Green Lane in south London on February 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Glyn KIRK /
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his team would have faced FA Cup humiliation against non-league Sutton United had they shown less application in their fifth-round victory.
Arsenal won 2-0 in Monday’s tie at Sutton’s 5,000-capacity Gander Green Lane ground, but they were given a real run for their money by a team ranked 105 places below them in the English league system.
Goals from Lucas Perez and Theo Walcott, his 100th in Arsenal’s colours, earned the visitors victory, but Sutton pushed them until the end, even hitting the bar through ex-Arsenal trainee Roarie Deacon.
Asked if it had merely been a case of ‘job done’, Wenger replied: “Yes, against a side that was astonishing.
“It is basically division five and they are 17th out of 24. I will never go down there (to manage) because it is too difficult!
“We had to keep our focus. I must give credit to the players who were professional and kept their focus.
“If we had come here in a relaxed mood, we would have gone out tonight because they produced quality.
“They kept going and we were never really in a position where we could afford to have a little breather in the game.”
Wenger made seven changes from last week’s 5-1 drubbing by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, which has left his long-term future at the club in doubt.
But the blending of several full internationals with a handful of fringe players betrayed his eagerness to avoid yet more negative headlines.
“We couldn’t afford to go out tonight. We can never afford it,” said Wenger, whose team will host another non-league side, Lincoln City, in the quarter-finals.
A bottle appeared to be thrown towards the dug-outs at the final whistle, as fans launched a mass pitch invasion, but Wenger played down the incident.
“I don’t know if it was at me or someone else or the referee, but there was a bottle thrown, yes,” he said.
– Wenger memories –
Sutton manager Paul Doswell condemned the unruly scenes.
“It disappointed me at the end,” he said. “They don’t support Sutton. Absolute idiots.”
Nevertheless, he said it had been “a dream” to watch his players play against Arsenal and professed himself “very, very proud” of their efforts.
Sutton had previously overcome Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and second-tier Leeds United, all of whom are ranked above them.
The club estimate the cup run has been worth £1 million ($1.27 million, 1.18 million euros) to them, which will be used to renovate the Gander Green Lane clubhouse.
First and foremost, however, Doswell wants to make sure his side, currently ranked 18th in the fifth-tier National League, avoid sliding even further down the English football pyramid.
Asked what the cup run meant to Sutton, he told reporters: “A legacy for the club, that allows them to go and put right all the things they wanted to put right.
“We’ve got to get safe in the National League to have really had a good season. If we finish 18th, with what’s happened (in the cup)… It’s a remarkable thing that’s happened.
“Everything inside, all the toilets, everything you’d want your house to look like, we’re going to put our house in order. It won’t be spent on players.”
Arsenal have pledged to put £50,000 towards two community classrooms, which Doswell said was “an amazing gesture”.
Wenger, meanwhile, said Sutton’s humble ground had put him in mind of his formative football years at the tiny village club of Duttlenheim in northeastern France.
“I come from a club that is smaller than that, so it reminds me of my childhood,” said the Frenchman.
“The changing rooms for me were fantastic. The closer you are, the more united you are when you go out there.
“When you are too far from each other in the dressing room with everybody having a chair, it is not so good. I prefer that –- much more together.”