Podolski brace sees Arsenal through to FA Cup final 16; Zelalem debuts
LONDON (AP) - Lukas Podolski scored a brace in the first half on Friday to help give Arsenal a routine 4-0 victory over third-tier Coventry in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
In a game that Arsenal dominated from the start, Podolski put the hosts ahead in the 15th minute by slotting home a cool finish after being set up by Mesut Ozil. He then doubled the lead with a close-range header from a corner in the 27th.
The win was never in doubt after that and Arsenal added two late goals as substitute Olivier Giroud struck in the 85th after replacing Podolski five minutes earlier, before Santi Cazorla slotted in the fourth.
In Friday's only other FA Cup game, Nottingham Forest was held to a 0-0 draw at home against Preston.
Playing in a steady drizzle in north London, it was the kind of comfortable victory Arsenal had hoped for as it looks ahead to facing Bayern Munich in the Champions League knockout round, while trying to protect its slim lead atop the Premier League.
Despite playing at home against third-tier opposition, manager Arsene Wenger named a surprisingly strong starting lineup with both Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere in midfield - perhaps worried about another upset after going out to Blackburn last season.
The difference in class was clear from the start, with Arsenal pushing forward and Coventry spending most of the game on the back foot.
And with Wenger contemplating buying a striker in the January transfer window, Podolski showed off his scoring touch by deciding the game in the first half.
Podolski was first sent clear by Ozil on the left side of the area and calmly rounded goalkeeper Joe Murphy before slotting a left-footed shot into an empty net.
The second came from a corner that Per Mertesacker met at the near post and headed on across the goal, with Podolski waiting at the far post to nod it into the net.
The German could have had a hat trick in the 38th when he met a cross by Carl Jenkinson in the center of the area but sent his shot high and wide.
Coventry was more enterprising after the break, with Leon Clarke wasting the team's two best chances for a goal.
Clarke raced clear down the right flank in the 50th but got too close to the byline before firing a low shot from a tight angle that Fabianski parried.
He then hit the right post with a first time effort from just inside the area as Arsenal seemed content to sit back and protect its lead.
Coventry tired toward the end though and Arsenal delivered a scoreline that more accurately reflected the difference between the two sides.
Giroud took his only chance in front of goal by slotting in a finish inside the near post and Cazorla continued his scoring streak from a similar position for his third goal in two games.
Arsenal's talented 16-year-old midfielder Gedion Zelalem also came on as a substitute, becoming the first player who was born after Arsene Wenger became manager of the team to make his debut. Zelalem, a German-Ethiopian who was raised in Maryland and turns 17 Sunday, has been touted as perhaps the club's biggest talent since Cesc Fabregas and was given a rousing reception when he came on.
Coventry is a former Premier League club and the 1987 FA Cup winner but has struggled both on and off the field in recent years. The team is 11th in League One this season and has been forced to play all of its home games at Northampton because of a rent dispute with the owners of Ricoh Arena.
The contingent of about 6,000 Coventry fans protested the situation during the game, holding up signs in the 35th and 61st minute.
Arsenal had its own stadium problems, with some of the floodlights at the Emirates going out just before halftime. The game continued without interruption, with hundreds of fans making fun of the situation by lighting up their mobile phones in the stands in mock efforts to illuminate the pitch.
It was about the only thing that went wrong for Arsenal on the night.
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