Arsene Wenger took another step towards becoming the most successful manager in FA Cup annals on Saturday and hailed Arsenal’s “special solidarity” in fighting back to record a 3-1 third-round win over Sunderland.
The Frenchman has set his sights on landing the trophy for a record seventh time, eclipsing the mark he shares with George Ramsay who led Aston Villa to six triumphs between 1887 and 1920.
Yet after piloting Arsenal to a 13th straight FA Cup victory as they seek to win the trophy for a third consecutive year, another unprecedented feat in the modern game, Wenger said there were worrying moments after Sunderland took a 17th-minute lead through Jeremain Lens.
“It was a test for us to come from behind. There was a great mental response and there is a special solidarity in the team,” Wenger told reporters.
“You always worry because, no matter how long you are in this job, you never know what is next.”
What came next was an impressive response from the Premier League leaders, inspired by a driving display in midfield from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and kicked off by Joel Campbell’s half-volleyed 25th-minute equaliser.
The goal was the highlight of a performance from Costa Rican striker Campbell that Wenger hailed as “very good”.
He had praise for others too, including Hector Bellerin who set up Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal’s second before the defender’s pass also gave Olivier Giroud a simple tap-in for the third.
“He became stronger and stronger. Sometimes I felt in the last 20 minutes, every time he went forward he created a chance on goal,” Wenger said of Bellerin.
“The fact that he is only 20, there is a lot more to come from him.”
Wenger was also struck by the excellent work of 19-year-old Nigerian Alex Iwobi, nephew of former Africa great Jay-Jay Okocha.
Iwobi’s introduction enabled Arsenal to give playmaker Mesut Ozil a rest and left the manager to enthuse: “I liked the timing of his passes. In the middle of the park that is a vital quality and the fact he plays forward and sees things”.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Tony Jimenez)