Sutton United’s players will “go down in history” despite missing out on a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals, said manager Paul Doswell.
The National League side were beaten 2-0 by Premier League visitors Arsenal, who are 105 places above Sutton on English football’s ladder.
The home side had several chances, with Adam May wasting a chance and Roarie Deacon hitting the crossbar.
“This was our cup final,” said Doswell. “I’m very, very proud.”
The 50-year-old said it was “a dream” to watch his side play Arsenal, who will face another non-league team – Lincoln City – in the last eight.
“We were disappointed not to get a goal for the supporters here but the overriding emotion is pride,” he added.
Sutton, who famously beat Coventry in the FA Cup in 1989, had overcome league sides AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United on their way to the fifth round.
But they could not get the better of an Arsenal team who had lost three of their previous four games.
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Sutton better than I expected – Wenger
Sutton held their own against 12-time FA Cup winners Arsenal, who are fourth in the Premier League, before Lucas Perez’s 26th-minute cross-shot gave Arsene Wenger’s side the lead.
Theo Walcott’s 100th goal for the club sealed victory at Gander Green Lane.
Wenger, who made seven changes to the team beaten 5-1 by Bayern Munich last week, said Sutton’s performance surprised him.
“I don’t really enjoy tonight because we absolutely had to do the job and it is tricky,” he said.
“They played very well. It is basically division five and when I arrived here in England 20 years ago, in division five they were not as fit physically as they were today.
“They were organised and had a huge desire. If we were not mentally prepared, we would not have gone through.”
‘Why are they not playing at a higher level?’
Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown was surprised to see Deacon, who came through the Gunners’ youth system, playing at non-league level.
“You wonder, looking at Roarie Deacon, if the game has failed him,” he said.
“He should be playing at a higher level. He has great quality with both feet and he was really unlucky with that shot that hit the bar.”
Former England striker Alan Shearer said the Sutton players can be very proud of their performance throughout the competition.
“It has been one heck of a run,” he said. “There were some very, very positive performances out there.”