Only a fat man eating a pie could overshadow Lucas Perez’s opening goal in Sutton v Arsenal
Perhaps the most seen moment of Monday’s FA Cup match between Arsenal and Sutton, thanks to the magic of social media and the general plebian appeal of Sutton reserve goalie Wayne Shaw, was Shaw eating a pie on the sidelines in the 82nd minute—a moment which turned out to be a tie-in with sponsor Sun Bets with calamitous results.
But the match’s opening goal was a brilliant piece of play, on a field wedged into an absurdly small stadium, particularly considering that one of the world’s richest soccer teams—through the magic of the FA Cup draw—was visiting this 765-seat (5,013 capacity) shoebox. And it featured a player who has been, up to now, anonymous in his first Arsenal season: Lucas Perez, the wearer of the albatross that is the Arsenal №9 jersey, claimed from Deportivo La Coruña late in the transfer window (to the dismay of Arsenal fans who clamored for a more celebrated name to add to the roster, after dodged-bullet Jamie Vardy opted to re-sign for Leicester rather than make the move to the Emirates).
The play came at the 26th minute of a scoreless tie, about the point in the match at which Arsenal fans were getting fidgety about not yet scoring against a non-league side. Granit Xhaka sent a pass down the right flank that looked well placed, but skipped a bit past Lucas, forcing him to shift into a higher gear and move out toward the sideline in order to keep it in bounds. He not only kept the ball in, but found a route to an undefended spot just outside the box, and fired in a pass to a charging-toward-goal Theo Walcott. It would have been a beautiful assist, picking out Walcott on his run, and at first, that’s just how it appeared.
But Walcott actually missed entirely on his attempted backheel—he effectively screened Sutton’s goalie from diving for the ball for the necessary fraction of a second, and fortunately for all in the Arsenal camp, the ball that skipped through Walcott’s legs was on a straight line past the diving goalie and inside the post. Walcott would eventually get his elusive 100th goal for Arsenal—some might say for seasons—in the second half on a prototypical Arsenal play, with multiple passes around the box leading to an opportunistic finish.
For Lucas, it’s his seventh goal in all competitions this year—but that includes a Champions League hat-trick against Basel and a brace in a League Cup match against Nottingham Forest, not exactly relevant goals in the annals of the ‘16-’17 season. As the team rounds into a familiar predicament as winter turns to spring—likely to exit the Champions League in the Round of 16, unlikely to win the Premier League but likely to secure the all-important Top Four finish—Lucas provides an intriguing offensive option for a team that’s leaned heavily on the young Alex Iwobi and the probably-overworked Alexis Sanchez to run in the orbit of an increasingly mercurial Mesut Ozil.
Certainly, it’s hard to take away much of anything from a 2–0 Arsenal win against a team typically sponsored by Greengo Waste, but maybe, just maybe, Lucas Perez has the workrate and on-the-ball acumen that can advance him from an afterthought on the roster to a reliable attacker who deserves some run-outs in the Starting XI. He can, after all, score even when he means to just pass.