Aaron Ramsey came off the bench to lift Arsenal out of a hole and keep the Gunners dream of an FA Cup three-peat alive.
Arsenal came from behind to beat Sunderland 3-1 in their clash at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners, who rested key players including Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker, fell behind on 17 minutes when Jeremain Lens seized on a Laurent Koscielny error to send the ball past Petr Cech.
The lead did not last long, though, with Joel Campbell scoring from close range following a Theo Walcott cut-back.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the post for Arsenal in the second half before substitute Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud scored in the 72nd and 76th minutes to keep alive their hopes of winning the competition for a third successive season.
Sunderland, 18 places below Arsenal in the Premier League, proved no slouches and in the end Arsene Wenger had to bring out their big guns to try to become the first team in 120 years since Blackburn Rovers to lift three successive FA Cups.
That prospect led to the Gunners boss introducing a new word into football. He is going for ‘threepeat’. He milked into the LA Lakers NBA team’s famous quote after they had won two successive titles.
He said: “Let’s go for it. As a child I always wanted to win the FA Cup. Now it’s a chance of ‘threepeat’.
“There’s a long way to go and Sunderland made it tough but we needed the likes of Hector Bellerin to help us out. I doubt there is a better right-back in the country right now and he is only 20.”
Bellerin’s form means Wenger is certain to allow misfit Mathieu Debuchy to join Aston Villa.
“I think that is possible,” he said.
Wenger added: “We had to work hard here. But we stuck to our task after Sunderland gave us a first half scare. We took the second half, thankfully.”
Ramsey was needed when it looked as if Sunderland had seen off all their openings and the game was heading for stalemate. So for the second week running Arsenal won ugly – and their fans won’t mind one bit.
Arsenal were in control but they struggled to make it count because Mackems boss Sam Allardyce has introduced a system that might yet work against teams without Arsenal’s ability.
So it was no surprise when they took a 17th-minute lead. Arsenal’s defence, never comfortable, crumbled and when Laurent Koscielny lost the ball Jeremain Lens whipped it off his feet to fire home a powerful shot.
Suddenly Arsenal’s proud record of never losing a Third-Round tie when defending the trophy looked under threat.
It was no more than Sunderland deserved. They had been aggressive from the start and took advantage of an Arsenal side that lacked any midfield quality.
It needed the quality of Theo Walcott and the attacking skills of Bellerin to create the victory. Bellerin went on a personal crusade, winning tackles, finding space – and his persistence paid off.
He took a pass from Alex Iwobi, raced to the by-line and crossed for Campbell to sweetly sweep home a 27th-minute equaliser.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit a post on the hour as Arsenal took the second half by storm but for all their probing they found it hard to beat a packed Sunderland defence.
The Black Cats showed they were no pushovers and Steven Fletcher rattled Arsenal’s crossbar with a header from DeAndre Yedlin’s cross.
But then Ramsey arrived. Bellerin, aggressive and cool throughout, put the Welshman through on goal and he cleverly flicked the ball home in the 72nd minute.
Then Bellerin raced down the line again three minutes later to cross for Giroud to add a third.
The scoreline suggests an easy win. It was anything but.
Arsenal needed Ramsey’s qualities and Bellerin’s drive from defence to snake over the line as they attempt to secure a 13th FA Cup title.