Evening all. Alexis Sanchez made a match-winning return to Arsenal’s starting line-up this afternoon by grabbing an assist before scoring our second, as we beat Burnley 2-1 at Emirates stadium to progress to the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Our right-back on the day, Calum Chambers, had given us the lead in the 19th minute when he finished first-time – Carlos Alberto-esque – with the outside of his right foot after latching onto Sanchez’s nut-megged pass following a fine team move. But the visitors drew level with half an hour played, when a sustained attack on our penalty area eventually ended with Sam Vokes heading Tendayi Darikwa’s cross past David Ospina.
Eight minutes into the second half however, Sanchez applied an emphatic finish to a breakneck Arsenal counter-attack, calmly half-volleying home Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s right-wing cross from close-rage. That settled the tie and keeps us firmly in contention to become the first club to win three FA Cups in a row since Blackburn Rovers in the 19th Century.
Those of you who read yesterday’s post will have noticed me playing Arsenal Manager by offering my prediction for today’s starting selection. In the end, I was just the one player wide of the mark, with Joel Campbell an unused substitute against the Clarets and Francis Coquelin instead making his first start since recovering from the knee injury he sustained back in November.
But Mohamed Elneny did start to make his full debut for the club and put in a busy, if unspectacular, shift in a box-to-box role. I tuned in on Setanta Sports and their commentators and studio pundits were blabbering on about how Elneny was ‘a typical Arsenal defensive midfielder’ because he was more a number 10, straying all over the pitch, running wide to provide overlaps and generally far too advanced and adventurous for their liking.
They wanted a defensive midfielder to be more disciplined, hold his position in front of our defence and not involve himself further up the pitch, which to be fair, is reasonable enough. Except it obviously escaped their attention that although Elneny’s best position may well be defensive midfield in the long-term, that wasn’t his assignment today, because, erm, Coquelin was doing that job. Elneny had clearly been afforded the freedom to play in more of a number 8 role by Arsene Wenger, and he did well considering this was his first game at a new club in a new country.
The Egyptian was industrious, kept his passing simple and successful for the most part, and showed he’s more than willing to shoot given a glimpse of goal – something too many of our players shy away from too often in my opinion.
I did think he looked a little weak in the one-on-one dual, but I’m sure once we get him on a personalized strength-building programme similar to the one Mesut Ozil benefited from, he’ll be better equipped for the physicality of the English game. Overall then, a very promising first outing in Arsenal colours for the former Basel man as far as I’m concerned and here’s what Arsene made of his latest signing’s display:
I felt he started a bit cautious, played a bit secure. He became more adventurous. It will take him some time to adjust to the power side of our game here, but the intelligence, the mobility and the technical level are good.
Elsewhere in our side I thought Kieran Gibbs was lively and played pretty well, Sanchez was his usual irrepressible self and Coquelin was understandably a little rusty, yet still as effective and aggressive in his defending as we’ve become accustomed to. Oliver Giroud on the other hand, apart from a good lay-off in the build-up to our winner, had a game to forget with little coming off for him.
Back to positives though and I thought Alex Iwobi was very impressive again, as he was in the last round against Sunderland, with the youngster heavily involved in the moves for both of our goals today. He’s quick, passes well, has great awareness and also showed great tenacity in competing for the ball in midfield.
A little like the Ox and Tomas Rosicky, he also appears to have the ability to ‘accelerate’ our play, by carrying the ball smoothly and directly forward to set us on the attack. Very, very promising indeed but as one of numerous young talents attached to the club and obviously striving to achieve regular first-team involvement, you do wonder how we’ll incorporate them all.
For instance, Chuba Akpom, who’s out on loan at Hull, grabbed his-ever first hat-trick at senior level today, as the Tigers beat League One Bury in the FA Cup, to provide a reminder of his talents. Then there’s Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Gedion Zelalem, Jon Toral, Dan Crowley, Serge Gnabry, our two new Nigerian starlets and despite being the oldest of the lot, the one I rate highest of all, Wellington Silva.
Still, it’s a good problem to have, as I’m sure Arsene will feel, and it’s good to know we have genuine quality bubbling under the surface of the first-team squad should we need it.