Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley was left with an abundance of pride at his side’s display despite their Emirates FA Cup campaign coming to an end against Premier League giants Arsenal in the quarter-finals.
The Imps held on valiantly into first-half stoppage time, but Theo Walcott ensured the Gunners would lead by the break, reports the FA website.
Olivier Giroud added a second just after half-time, while an unfortunate own goal from centre-back Luke Waterfall all-but-ended the contest, still with half-an-hour to play at Emirates Stadium.
Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey added gloss to the scoreline with two more late efforts, a margin far from befitting the excellent fight from the National League side, the first team outside the Football League to reach the quarter-finals in 114 years.
‘We found it tough in the second half, we were playing against world-class players but when they scored on the edge of half-time it was always going to be difficult, they got a lot of confidence,’ Cowley said after the game.
‘But we’re the first non-league team to get to the quarter-finals in more than 100 years, and at some stage we need to be really proud of what we’ve done.
‘We were disappointed to concede that first goal, we got a little bit passive and we needed to be a bit more aggressive, but this is not the time for criticism. This is a time for us to reflect on what we’ve done in the Emirates FA Cup.
‘The key for us is to learn from this. We’ve played against some world-class players so we must come away from this as better players and better people.’
It seemed as though Lincoln would hold on until the break, only for Walcott’s fifth FA Cup goal of the campaign putting the Gunners ahead, spinning and firing home a low shot.
That breathed second-half life into Arsene Wenger’s side, with Giroud steering in first-time after some delicious build-up play befitting the divisional difference between the two sides.
Still Arsenal pushed on, defiant not to be another Premier League scalp after Lincoln defeated Burnley last time out, adding a third in fortunate circumstances as the captain Waterfall diverted Kieran Gibbs’ low cross into his own net.
Sanchez made it four with a delicious curling shot, while Ramsey danced around a host of tired bodies to add a tap-in with 15 minutes to play.
Despite the scoreline, Imps captain Waterfall was delighted with the character shown by his side, a run which had seen them knock out four teams above them in the football pyramid in Oldham, Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley.
‘For 45 minutes we’re in the game, we conceded at a poor time and barring that goal there might have been a lot more in the game,’ he said.
‘It’s no disgrace, we’ve brought 9,000 fans here against a world-class side, and I think the lads have done themselves justice.
‘I’ve still got to pinch myself about what we’ve done, to finish it off here in front of 60,000 people, 9,000 travelling fans is amazing.’
Arsenal far from had their own way in the match, with Petr Cech needing to be smart to smother chances, though opening scorer Walcott was delighted to reflect on a job well done in front of their own support, now looking forward to a place at Wembley in the semi-finals.
The England forward said: ‘We went out there and did a job, we knew it would be tense in that first half and it was crucial to go in 1-0.
‘Give credit to Lincoln, they were fantastic and while this was a step too far for them, it shows the love for the FA Cup.
‘That goal was very crucial. We did the right things but needed to up the tempo, tried to stay very professional out of respect to Lincoln, and it was a good result after a few very tough weeks.’