Arsenal 1 Doncaster Rovers 0 - Gutsy Rovers earn a moral victory at the Emirates
Gutsy Doncaster Rovers went out of the Carabao Cup at Arsenal with their heads held high.
The Gunners certainly won’t have expected the same sort of scare they got against Rovers at Belle Vue in the same competition 12 years ago.
But in the slightly more luxurious surroundings of the Emirates Stadium the Premier League giants were given anything but an easy passage into the fourth round by battling Rovers.
And Darren Ferguson’s men should take plenty of belief from the way they competed with the star-studded Premier League giants into Saturday’s important trip to Plymouth Argyle.
Rovers came under siege for the opening half hour and buckled when Theo Walcott found the space to score the only goal of the game after 25 minutes.
But the away side grew in confidence from that point on and went on to fashion several openings. Arsenal remained a threat, but they knew they had been in a game come the final whistle.
Ferguson sprang something of a surprise by dropping John Marquis and handing former non-league striker Alfie May a dream start in attack.
Andy Williams was also left out from the side that lost to Scunthorpe on Sunday - but the decision to go five at the back and play an extra midfielder, in an attempt to limit space and stifle the Gunners, was less of a shock.
Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, made eleven changes but still picked a side packed full of international experience, including Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere.
Rovers showed great intent immediately from the kick off as their pressing created space for Rodney Kongolo whose long range effort forced a save out of David Ospina.
But it did not take long for the game to settle into a very predictable pattern of the Gunners dominating the ball and working angles and openings for fun.
Walcott, played in by Mohamed Elneny, was first to draw a save from Lawlor.
And before ten minutes had been played Sanchez had chipped an effort just wide of the far post, Giroud smacked the bar with a sensational bicycle kick and Lawlor had to save smartly to keep out a Sanchez free kick from 30 yards.
Rovers had set their stall out to defend first and foremost, attempting to break at pace.
They weathered the early storm but giving the ball away too cheaply was proving to be a problem - and when May did it on the 20-minute mark it was nearly punished when Elneny crossed for Giroud to head just over.
Five minutes later, however, the deadlock was broken. A diagonal ball from Sanchez really ought to have been dealt with but Walcott sneaked in behind Niall Mason and calmly lifted his shot over Lawlor.
Rovers had been disciplined to that point but suddenly they were on the ropes as Wilshere lashed a deflected shot wide and Giroud again went close, this time from just outside the box.
However, the visitors picked themselves up and grew in confidence for the remainder of the half, keeping the ball much better and working their way deeper into Arsenal territory. The closest they went was when Kongolo slid in May whose shot hit the side-netting but, more importantly, they were still in the game.
Doncaster were almost caught by a sweeping counter attack just after the re-start but Lawlor got a vital touch to prevent Walcott doubling the deficit.
Rovers were giving it a go, though, and now spending more time in Arsenal territory, with Kongolo playing a starring role in midfield.
Tommy Rowe was presented with a sight of goal but fluffed his lines before the jet-heeled Ainsley Maitland-Niles turned on the after-burners to prevent May a clear run on goal.
Sanchez was the star for Arsenal and some showboating from the Chilean, shortly after James Coppinger and Jordan Houghton departed for Doncaster, eventually led to an opportunity for Reiss Nelson but Lawlor was equal to his shot.
The away side refused to lie down and continued to knock on the door as the clock ticked down.
Within seconds of coming on, Marquis had two sights of goal but was unable to hit the target. Liam Mandeville twisted in the box and saw his shot deflected just wide. And from the resultant corner Matty Blair’s header was tipped onto the bar by Ospina.
Lawlor saved from Alex Iwobi in stoppage time but the 1-0 scoreline was almost a moral victory for determined Doncaster.