Wenger wants to see ‘character’

On a weekend of FA Cup upsets a professional display from

Chelsea ensured there was no further embarrassment in the capital

as they beat Brentford 4-0 at Stamford Bridge to earn themselves a

spot in the fifth round.

Brentford proved difficult to break down in the opening 45

minutes of an engaging replay but Chelsea improved beyond

recognition after the interval as goals from Juan Mata, Oscar,

Frank Lampard and John Terry extinguished the League One side’s

hopes of pulling off the unlikeliest of scalps.

Rafa Benitez gave the competition the respect it deserves in

selecting a strong Chelsea XI but it was largely a flat first half

performance from the hosts, who started the contest 48 places above

their visitors. Brentford kept a solid shape throughout and while

only threatening intermittently they grew in confidence as the half

progressed, with Chelsea and Lampard in particular left to rue

profligacy in front of goal.

The England man twice squandered gilt-edged chances in failing

to make a proper connection when well-placed from Branislav

Ivanovic right wing deliveries.

The Serbian had earlier gone close himself to breaking the

deadlock when a looping header drifted over the top of Bees

goalkeeper Simon Moore’s far post.

For Brentford it was the industrious and highly-rated Adam

Forshaw who looked the likeliest bet for Uwe Rosler’s side as two

decent strikes had power but lacked precision from range.

The closest either side came to threatening the score-sheet

arrived on 25 minutes when Oscar, Chelsea’s brightest spark,

clipped the outside of the post after being fed in by Mata.

An over eager whistle from Neil Swarbrick angered Brentford’s

players towards the end of the first period when Marcello Trotta

had the ball in Chelsea’s net but not before the match official had

blown for a foul on Forshaw on the edge of the area.

Presumably with a flea in their ear Chelsea came out for the

second half with more purpose as Moore was forced into a smart

early stop when he repelled Ivanovic’s powerful header from a

corner.

There was nothing he could do though in the 54th minute to

prevent Chelsea from taking the lead. Petr Cech’s long clearance

downfield set up an aerial duel won by Demba Ba and, when the ball

broke to Mata 20 yards from goal, he set his sights before rifling

a trademark daisy cutter past Moore in some style.

It was a lead doubled by Oscar’s impudent flick from close range

after substitute Eden Hazard had picked off some wasteful Brentford

passing to feed-in a marauding Ivanovic, whose cross was

beautifully finished by the Brazilian.

Thereafter it was a question of how many Chelsea might score as

Lampard bagged himself another club record when his tap-in from

Mata’s clipped cross, his 199th goal for Chelsea, saw him surpass

Bobby Tambling’s record for FA Cup strikes on 26.

An almost perfect second half was capped by a Terry goal on his

return as he rose at the far post to nod in Oscar’s clever looping

cross. The only sour note of the afternoon came five minutes from

time when David Luiz needlessly crashed into Bees substitute Jake

Reeves in a reckless challenge that could have earned him a red

card from a less lenient referee.

Chelsea will now play Middlesbrough at The Riverside in the

fifth round.

Sproule had missed the previous two games with a hamstring

injury but bounced back to score a superb goal in the 11th minute

on at the Global Energy Stadium, sending a shot from the edge of

the 18-yard box into the top corner.

It was his fourth goal in as many starts for his new club since

his move last month from Hibernian, as Ross extended their unbeaten

run to seven games.

For Sproule, the move is going according to plan, and he said:

“I’m enjoying my football at the moment. I took a wee knock which

kept me out for two games but I came back in – I’m just glad to be

playing and get the win.

“But all credit goes to the lads, they turned in two good

performances while I was out of the team.

“This is the reason I came to the club, to play games and pick

up three points every weekend – and that’s what I’m doing at the

minute.”

Describing his goal, Sproule added: “I fancied a whip at it and

luckily for me it flew into the top corner.

“I don’t care who scores, we’ve got the three points.

“I’m in a rich vein of form. I was trying to put it in off the

post, there was no other place I could have put it.”

The Northern Irishman has already made himself a mainstay at

County, in contrast to his second spell at Easter Road where he

failed to establish a regular starting spot.

Although the 31-year-old has no rancour about his time at Hibs

second time around, he is relieved to be playing a major part

now.

“I didn’t get playing at Hibs,” he said.

“It wasn’t to do with my form, it was a personal choice by the

manager.

“I respected him though because he’s got a decision to make. I

played in the Championship for four years and won a cup with Hibs

and I came up here with nothing to prove to anybody.”

St Johnstone defender Callum Davidson admired Sproule’s goal but

also felt it was not their day.

He said: “It was a fantastic finish, I’m not quite sure he meant

it to stick it in that top corner but it was a good finish.

“We kind of put pressure on them after that but nothing really

fell for us.

“We maybe looked a little bit lethargic in the last third.

“I thought the effort was there; it was just one of those games

– you just have to pat Ross County on the back and say they

defended really well.”

Davidson added: “It was a big game for us going into the Celtic

game on Tuesday.

“If we got a result today it would have put us in a prime

position.

“It is not an easy place to come to and the pitch wasn’t great

either.

“We were all pretty angry and upset in the changing room after

the result, that shows the lads care.

“Celtic are in the middle of a big run at the moment, we’ll see

what team they put out.

“We had a couple of good results against them in the league.

“But it’s up to us to recover properly and go again on

Tuesday.”

The Gunners’ campaign suffered another setback when although

dominating Blackburn at the Emirates Stadium, they were knocked out

by a scrappy second-half goal from former Arsenal trainee Colin

Kazim-Richards.

Despite Sunday morning’s negative headlines and criticism of his

team selection – which saw Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Santi

Cazorla all start on the bench – Wenger insists how his men now

respond will go on to define the outcome of what has been one of

the most testing seasons of his time in charge.

“You can take a distance in terms of what people say and show

how strong and good you are in the next game,” said Wenger, who

suffered defeat against lower league opposition in the FA Cup for

the first time.

“It is a good opportunity to show that we have character and are

men who can fight for each other.”

Arsenal were also knocked out of the Capital One Cup in a match

they had been expected to win when losing at npower League One

Bradford on penalties in December.

Wenger, though, maintains he had not taken Saturday’s clash

lightly, despite what lay ahead in Europe next week.

“It is very disappointing that the two (cup defeats) have

happened in the same season, but I prepared these two in the same

way that I did in the 16 years before,” he said.

“I couldn’t see how we could lose this game because we always

had the ball and they had one shot on goal, but they defended

well.

“It was the kind of game you can lose if you make a mistake at

the back and that’s what we did. We gave them the game,

basically.”

Yet even with all of Arsenal’s changes, there was still enough

quality on the pitch to have seen off the challenge of Rovers, who

are battling to get themselves back into the top flight under

Michael Appleton.

Abou Diaby’s goalbound header was saved by Rovers goalkeeper

Jake Kean before, in what proved the match’s pivotal moment, Ivory

Coast forward Gervinho – making his first appearance after the

African Nations Cup – rolled the ball wide of the post when put

clear into the penalty area.

Czech winger Tomas Rosicky saw his 25-yard effort come back off

the crossbar before Wenger made a treble substitution in an attempt

to spark new life into the tie.

However, moments after the change, Rovers snatched the lead

after 72 minutes when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny parried Martin

Olsson’s shot back to Kazim-Richards, whose rebound effort bounced

up off the ground, onto the post and in.

Arsenal at least had more urgency, but still lacked any real

penetration as Kean produced another good reaction save from a

close-range header by Walcott while Blackburn’s resilient defending

was rewarded after Olivier Giroud’s blocked effort in stoppage-time

was quickly followed by the final whistle.

Rovers were rank outsiders, as long as 11/1 shots to record an

unlikely victory.

There will, though, be little time for Appleton – in charge of

his third club this season – and the Blackburn squad to revel in

their moment of FA Cup history.

“What we have to do very quickly is to move on because we have a

(Championship) game against Hull on Tuesday night, which is almost

a reality check,” said Appleton, whose side are six points off the

play-offs in eighth.

“It is our bread and butter, what we will be doing for 46 games

across the season, so that is my job and my staff, to make sure we

can get that over to the players.”

Rovers captain Scott Dann feels the result was testament to the

hard work put in by Appleton since his arrival from Blackpool just

five weeks ago.

“In the last 18 months there has been too much going on behind

the scenes with managers coming and managers going back out not too

long after,” the defender said.

“What we needed was a bit of stability and the new manager has

given us that.

“The way that they have turned things around and got us playing

at the moment, we are going from strength to strength.”