Nasri injured as Arsenal edge victory over Huddersfield
Arsenal 2 Huddersfield Town 1: Arsenal paid a heavy price as they laboured to the narrowest of victories over a Huddersfield Town team 45 places below them in the league, with Samir Nasri ruled out for up to a month with a bad hamstring injury.
The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, rested several star names for the visit of League One promotion hopefuls Huddersfield Town but opted to select Nasri in his favoured position in the centre of the midfield in the role normally occupied by Cesc Fabregas.
However the French playmaker, who has been arguably Arsenal's most influential player this season, pulled up grabbing the back of his right thigh in the 32nd minute and is now likely to be sidelined for at least three weeks, which would rule him out for the visit of Barcelona in the knock-out stages of the Champions League on 16 February.
The decision to play Nasri, who had been rested for the midweek victory over Ipswich Town in the Carling Cup semi-final, now looks a misjudgment by Wenger, as the midfielder has been superb in recent weeks, scoring 14 goals but also providing much of Arsenal's creative spark.
The loss of Nasri will be felt more immediately than the eye-catching encounter with Barcelona as the games are coming at a relentless pace. Arsenal play Everton at home tomorrow then travel to Newcastle United next weekend. Sebastien Squillaci will be suspended for the Everton game after he was dismissed yesterday for a professional foul on Huddersfield debutant Jack Hunt.
With Nasri off the pitch, Wenger turned to Fabregas for inspiration, and the captain came off the bench to win the game with a late penalty, when Huddersfield's otherwise excellent centre-back Jamie McCombe was adjudged to have held Nicklas Bendtner. Yet the Spaniard let himself down by waving an imaginary red card to try to influence referee Mark Clattenburg into sending the offender off instead of just booking him.
Wenger admitted it looks unlikely that Nasri will be fit in time for the Barcelona game, and defended Fabregas's antics.
"Nasri looks to have a serious hamstring injury. It is usually three weeks. I have regrets now [about playing him]. The plan was to play Tomas Rosicky, but he was still too weak because he was sick so I took a gamble on Nasri. It backfired.
"We looked a little bit tired today. Hopefully we can recover. When you win you recover more quickly. It is a big blow, how big I don't know. Results will tell but it is a big blow."
Wenger pardoned Fabregas for his unsporting act, but said the referee was correct. "I am not disappointed in him. He thought it was a red card. It's for the referee to make the decision. He made the right decision in my opinion," he said.
The Fabregas penalty decided this enthralling FA Cup tie, but the result was cruel on Huddersfield, who created enough chances to win the game once Arsenal were reduced to 10 men in the 42nd minute when Squillaci was dismissed.
At the time Arsenal were comfortably on top, thanks to their opening goal in the 22nd minute. Marouane Chamakh found Bendtner whose shot was missing the goal but was diverted into the net thanks to a hefty deflection off Town captain Peter Clarke. Bendtner's effort had been off target but that minor detail did not prevent the cocky Dane cupping his ear to the Huddersfield fans packed in behind the goal.
The loss of Nasri, followed just 10 minutes by the dismissal of Squillaci, disrupted Arsenal's rhythm, not least because Wenger did not have a defender on the bench and had to ask Alex Song to fill in at the back.
Huddersfield, prompted by the outstanding Joey Gudjonsson in midfield, battered Arsenal after the interval, and deservedly pulled level when the veteran Alan Lee headed in from Anthony Pilkington's corner. Moments earlier Lee had seen Manuel Almunia dive athletically to his right to keep his header out, but this time the Arsenal goalkeeper had no chance as Lee rose above Abou Diaby to score. It was his first goal in 26 appearances for Huddersfield since moving from Crystal Palace for £500,000 last summer. League One defences can handle him without much trouble, but not Arsenal's.
The tie seemed set for a replay until the home side were awarded a penalty with four minutes remaining, and Fabregas sent Ian Bennett the wrong way to settle the game.
A reflective Huddersfield manager, Lee Clark, said: "I'm very proud of my players. I thought it was an excellent performance. We are disappointed we didn't get anything more from the game. We need to take that form into the league now."
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Almunia; Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny, Gibbs; Diaby (Fabregas, 69), Denilson; Bendtner, Nasri (Rosicky, 32), Arshavin; Chamakh (Song, h-t). Substitutes not used: Szczesny (gk), Wilshere, van Persie, Walcott. Booked: Gibbs, Fabregas Sent off: Squillaci (42).
Huddersfield Town (4-1-4-1): Bennett; Hunt, McCombe, P Clarke, Kilbane; Peltier; Pilkington, Gudjonsson, T Clarke (Arfield, 61), Roberts; Lee. Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Naysmith, Kay, Novak, Atkinson, Chippendale.
Booked: Arfield, Pilkington, McCombe, Hunt
Referee: M Clattenburg (Durham)
Possession: Arsenal 42% Huddersfield 58%
Shots on target: Arsenal 6 Huddersfield 5
Man of the Match: Gudjonsson