While waiting for Arsenal’s FA Cup campaign in the 2011/12 season, a look back at Arsenal’s fairings in third round fixtures of the cup during the Wenger era may ease the nervousness for many Gooners.

Troublesome early years - 1996-1997

Arsene Wenger signed for Arsenal on September 30, 1996, and his first experience with the prestigious British Cup came in a game against Sunderland at Highbury. Wenger got a dream start when John Hartson headed in a Paul Merson cross in the tenth minute, but Sunderland’s Michael Gray put a damper to the spirit when he put in the equalizer to set up a third round replay in Wenger’s first FA Cup campaign. The replay on Sunderland’s Roker Park turned out to be the last FA Cup game on the 100-year-old stadium as two second half goals from Bergkamp and Hughes sent Wegner’s men through to the fourth round of the cup.

Dennis Bergkamp’s wonder goal versus Sunderland in the 2-0 victory on the 15th of January 1997:

The subsequent year saw another replay being necessary for Arsenal in order to progress in the cup. This year, Port Vale was the opposition and The Valiants proved a worthy opponent as it took The Gunners two games and ten minutes into extra time to find the net when Dennis Bergkamp scored. However, Port Vale equalized eight minutes later via a Corden equalizer, but the late attempt to halt Arsenal’s FA Cup journey proved futile as Arsenal went on to win the cup that year after winning 4-3 on penalties against Port Vale.

Wenger’s men in control - 1998-2001

In the  1998-99 season, Preston North End attempted another FA Cup upset was on the cards as The Lilywhites went into half-time leading 2-1 against Wenger’s men after a lonely Boa Morte goal. However, the second half proved too much for Preston as Boa Morte ran riot and assisted both Petit and Overmars’ goals to make the trip home a joyous journey for the Arsenal faithful after a 4-2 victory.

Arsenal’s final FA Cup fixture of the millennium came in the third round against Blackpool in a game that kicked off on Monday 13th of December 1999. Grimandi, Adams, and Overmars got on the score sheet in a match that ended 3-1 at Highbury, but the score line could have seen Arsenal hit double figures had the players showed a little more precision in front of the Blackpool goal, and Thierry Henry saw numerous chances go begging.

The statistics of Wenger’s FA CUP Third Round runThe 2000-01 season saw Arsenal go all the way to the Millennium Stadium for the first FA Cup Final ever played at the magnificent stadium in Cardiff, but the joy of playing in the final quickly turned sour as Liverpool and Michael Owen proved too good for Wenger’s men. In the Third Round, a reserve-filled Arsenal team was put on the field to face minnows Carlisle after The Gunners had experienced a tumultuous two months prior to the match. Although Arsenal fans feared the worst in a potential banana-skin match, a Sylvain Wiltord goal sent Arsenal home to N5 with qualification to the Fourth Round in the box.

The pursuit of cup glory -2002-2003

The tearful ending to the 2000-01 season’s FA Cup campaign saw an Arsenal team enter the Third Round full of aspirations to do one better than second place in the subsequent cup campaign, and Wenger’s men got the start they were hoping for. On January 5, 2001, Watford got outclassed on their own ground as goals from Henry, Ljungberg, Kanu, and Bergkamp saw Arsenal dump Watford out of the cup in a 4-2 victory. Wenger was still yet to lose in the Third Round of the cup, and Arsenal went on to secure their eighth FA Cup trophy.

Oxford United visited Highbury at the dawn of January in 2003, and although the visitors tested Arsenal’s resolve, a Dennis Bergkamp strike added onto by an own goal by the visitors proved too much for Oxford in a 2-0 victory for Arsenal. For the second year running, The Gunners saw off all the challengers and won the FA Cup after defeating Southampton with a single Robert Pires goal in the final.

Another easy victory was achieved in the subsequent year when Wenger’s men thrashed Leeds United out of the cup with a 4-1 victory at Elland Road in the Third Round fixture between the two sides. A strong Arsenal side picked The Whites apart, and goals from Edu, Pires, Henry, and Toure pleased the travelling Gooners in a season that saw the team go unbeaten in the league and end up with 49 games undefeated, a feat that no other English team has managed.

Kolo Toure shows Cantona that he can perform a flying kick as well:

Third Round invincibility is threatened - 2004-2005

The season following the “Invincible” season turned out to be anything else than a stroll in the park for Arsenal, and Wenger saw his side struggle to a 2-1 victory over Stoke City with the talented young Spaniard Jose Antonio Reyes accompanying Robert Pires on the score sheet for Arsenal. However, the troublesome Third Round fixture proved to be nothing more than a minor obstacle for The Gunners who went all the way to the final where they beat Manchester United 5-4 on penalties in order to allow the players to lift the trophy after the final whistle.

A similar score line was the result of the Third Round fixture with Cardiff City in the 2005-06 season. The final season at Highbury was filled with anxiety and fear for losing the Champions League spot to Tottenham, and the match against Cardiff City was emblematical to this season’s trend as Cardiff City proved worthy contestants to Arsenal’s title ambitions. Despite two Pires goals within the first twenty minutes, David Jones’ side threatened Arsenal’s hope of progression in the cup with a strong spell in the second half, but Cameron Jerome’s goal four minutes from time proved too little to oust Arsenal of the cup.

Flashes of brilliance and goals galore - 2006-2009

In the 2006-07 season, however, the Third Round fixture was against Liverpool at Anfield, and the game is best remembered for the brilliant goals delivered by Rosicky and Henry. Although Rosicky has come under scrutiny from the Arsenal faithful in recent years, his performance in this game showed what a classy player the Czech Republic international really is, and had it not been from a brilliant solo-goal from Thierry Henry, Rosicky would have his name written on all the match reports after this game.

Tomas Rosicky really put his mark on the match against Liverpool at Anfield in 2007

However, it was Thierry Henry’s remarkable solo-effort that stole the show in the encounter at Anfield:

Wenger’s unbeaten record in the FA Cup Third Round matches was upheld as the French manager’s side met Burnley in the early stages of 2008. Although the Arsenal faithful had hoped for a thrashing of the minor side, a young Arsenal side failed to meet the expectations as Gabor Kiraly and his defence got away on numerous occasions to avoid a humiliating result, but goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo guided Arsenal to a comfortable 2-0 victory.

Bendtner was on target once more in the Third Round in the 2008-09 as Arsenal met the expectations with a 3-1 victory over Plymouth Argyle to dampen the spirits of their 9000 travelling fans. Robin van Persie added two extra goals to the big Dane’s effort as Arsenal gave their loyal fans a good start to the year.

Replays and thorny fixtures - 2010-2011

Another talented youngster put his mark on the fixture in the Arsenal’s subsequent FA Cup campaign as Aaron Ramsey equalled out Alessandro Diamanti’s strike right before half time. Although the young Welshman has later carved out a good career for himself at The Gunners, the player who killed the game off, Eduardo da Silva, saw his Arsenal career cut short after the horrific injury suffered in the clash with Birmingham City’s Martin Taylor.

After some neat work around the box, Ramsey showed a ruthless finish to aid Arsenal’s victory:

With large parts of the Arsenal faithful yearning for another trophy after six trophy-less seasons, the match versus Leeds United in the FA Cup’s Third Round was seen as the ideal catalyst to spur Arsenal to success. However, a relatively strong Arsenal line-up failed to win at home to Leeds as a last-gasp Fabregas penalty was needed to salvage Wenger’s unbeaten run in the Third Round of the FA Cup. The replay saw an even stronger Arsenal side enter the pitch at Elland Road, and strikes from Nasri, van Persie, and a wonder goal from Bacary Sagna signalled the end to Leeds’ FA Cup ambitions in 2011.

Although he is an uncommon name on the scoring sheet, Bacary Sagna scored a stunner of a goal in last year’s FA Cup 3rd round replay against Leeds United:

In 2012, Leeds United are the opponent once more, and Wenger’s side will hope to prevent a repeat of last year’s scare and to maintain the French manager’s record of being undefeated in the Third Round fixtures of the prestigious British cup.

Follow me on Twitter: @mikey1886


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