Miracle comeback as Arsenal beat Aston Villa in FA Cup

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Arsenal staged a stunning comeback to reach the FA Cup fifth round as the Gunners recovered from two goals down to snatch a dramatic 3-2 win against Aston Villa on Sunday.

Arsene Wenger’s side were heading for a shock fourth round exit after first half goals from Richard Dunne and Darren Bent put Villa in control at the Emirates Stadium.

But, facing the unpalatable prospect of a fourth successive defeat, the Gunners finally silenced the frustrated jeers of the home fans with a sensational second half display.

Three goals in seven minutes – two Robin van Persie penalties sandwiching a lucky strike from Theo Walcott – overwhelmed Villa and earned Arsenal a last 16 trip to Sunderland or Middlesbrough. After a torrid start to the new year this was exactly the kind of spirited effort Wenger desperately needed to lift the gloom surrounding the north London club.

Wenger had endured a torrent of abuse following his ill-fated decision to send on Andrey Arshavin for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during last weekend’s defeat against Manchester United.

Young winger Oxlade-Chamberlain was back in Wenger’s starting line-up here, while the much-maligned Arshavin had to be content with a place on the bench.

Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen went close to providing the ideal start when his ferocious free-kick was pushed over by Shay Given.

But after a cautious opening, Villa went ahead with a well-worked goal in the 33rd minute.

Stiliyan Petrov played a short corner to Robbie Keane, who returned possession to the Bulgarian.

As Arsenal’s defenders stood off, Petrov had time to clip a clever back-heel to Keane, who floated a teasing cross to the far post where Dunne rose above Laurent Koscielny to power his header past Lukasz Fabianski.

Stephen Ireland almost gifted Arsenal an immediate equaliser with a ridiculously careless pass in his own penalty area. Aaron Ramsey intercepted but his shot was scrambled away for a corner.

Villa were going forward with real confidence now and extended their lead with a majestic move in first half stoppage-time.

Gabriel Agbonlahor started the attack from deep in his own half and Petrov then switched play to the right wing, where Ireland slipped a sublime pass behind the Arsenal defence for Bent to chase.

Bent got there before Vermaelen and when his initial shot was saved by Fabianski, the Villa striker kept his composure to slot the rebound into the empty net.

Wenger’s players trudged off with the home fans’ anger ringing in their ears.

It needed an immediate response in the second half to avert a crisis and Arsenal delivered in emphatic fashion.

The hosts were unlucky not to reduce the deficit when Per Mertesacker’s header was cleared off the line by Ireland.

But they were back in the tie in the 54th minute when Dunne halted Ramsey’s surging run into the Villa area with a crude foul.

Referee Mike Jones pointed for a penalty and van Persie stroked home the spot-kick for his 24th goal of the season.

Suddenly Arsenal had been lifted out of their lethargy and they equalised in the 57th minute.

Walcott, previously a subdued figure, raced away from Stephen Warnock before cutting towards goal.

It seemed as though Villa had escaped when Walcott’s shot hit a post, but Arsenal’s luck was in as Alan Hutton’s attempted clearance struck Walcott and flashed back into the net.

Walcott knew little about it but no-one in Arsenal colours cared and the mood changed from relief to wild celebration when the Gunners took the lead four minutes later.

Koscielny carried the attack to Villa with a fine run into the area, prompting Bent to bring the defender down with a despairing lunge.

Again Jones awarded the penalty and once more van Persie sent Given the wrong way with a clinical spot-kick.

Villa threatened an equaliser through Ciaran Clark’s late header, but Arsenal had done enough to complete the sensational fightback.


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