Monday, January 27, 2014

Arsenal 4 Coventry City 0 (FA Cup 4th Round)

Arsenal went into this game as heavy favourites, priced at 1/10, even though it was uncertain what sort of team Arsene Wenger would field. The north London club had an extra day to recover before they face their next opponents, Southampton, who were to play a day later. In addition, with the return of Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey imminent, the boss did not need to worry about rotation in midfield. Nicklas Bendtner's earlier-than-expected return from his ankle injury meant the Frenchman had an option  up front.

In the end, Arsene Wenger named a young but strong side, making 6 changes from the side that started in a 2-0 victory over Fulham 6 days ago. This season's cup keeper, Lukas Fabianski was called up again, while Carl Jenkinson replaced Bacary Sagna at  right-back. Kieran Gibbs came in for Nacho Monreal. Wenger revealed a reason behind his selection of a central midfield paring in the post-match conference, stating that Flamini was "not available" (without citing the reason) who was dropped to the bench. Jack Wilshere and fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were fielded in the central midfield. This line-up looked a little too offensive and our fear was confirmed at the beginning of the second half. Lukas Podolski replaced Santi Cazorla on the left flank, while Bendtner led the line in the place of Giroud.

There were a few anxious moments at the beginning of the second half, when Coventry had changed their tactics and decided to have a go. They pressed Arsenal higher on the pitch and their quick attack exposed our back-four as we did not have a true holding midfielder this night. Although Wenger seemed to be happy with the central midfielder partnership, stating "they could be a good partnership in the future for England as well", Wilshere and the Ox left a gap between the defence and the midfield. We know that Wenger sees Jack Wilshere's future as a deep-lying midfielder and distributor, but he has a long way to go to match Mikel Arteta's calibre in that role. Also, a box-to-box player is the Ox's destination Wenger envisages, but he is far behind Aaron Ramsey, who has made a huge step forward this season, in terms of goal-scoring and defensive contribution. Wenger blamed his side's fatigue for a drop in the pace in the second half, in particular, of those who haven't played for a long time, presumably the Ox and Poldi. However, the absence of a holding midfielder may be attributed to Arsenal's struggle for the first 20 minutes in the second half. When Coventry defended deep in their own half in the first half, the Wilshere-Ox partnership worked fine, but as soon as they  came out to press higher up  the pitch, Arsenal found it difficult to cope. If Coventry players' finishing had been better, we might have conceded a goal or two. Arsenal are not used to the system without a holding midfielder.

It was a regulation win for Arsenal, but having learnt from the last season's bitter experiences of the cup exits at the hands of Bradford and Blackburn, they looked very professional this night. They made it sure to score goals when they were on top and kept their concentration. One of the positives from this game was Poldi scoring two good goals. Amid the speculation that the German striker may be used as a part of a Julian Draxler deal with Schalke, we strongly oppose the idea of letting him leave the Club. He is hugely popular among his team-mates and fans alike and he has just showed how he could help Arsenal's title aspiration.

The game itself may be one of those matches that will not stay in the fans' memories very long, but there were a few incidents that this FA Cup tie may be remembered with. There was a partial floodlight failure in the first half and spectators helped the lighting with their own mobile phones. We feared that this game might be abandoned with Arsenal going 2-0 up. A re-match would have been the last thing we wanted to be added to an already tough-looking February fixture list. Fortunately, the problem was solved during half-time.

For us who watched the game on the TV screen, the reason was not clear at the time, but the game was disrupted as one of the protesting Coventry fans invaded the pitch as we learnt later. We felt it annoying at that time because Arsenal were in a great position with Özil just about to trigger another ingenious attacking move. However, those Arsenal fans at the Emirates were sympathetic and supportive towards the situation the Coventry supporters are in. They earned the plaudits across the broad football fan base.

While the media are lamenting over the loss of the FA Cup's glamour, Arsenal showed they value the world's oldest football competition by fielding a strong side against a lower-league team, as well as Liverpool and Manchester City. Now Liverpool at home awaits in the fifth round the FA Cup. With a few lower-division clubs still left in the pot, we could have got a better draw, but if we can go through this tie, there is a good chance of going further this season, hopefully all the way, as either of Man City or Chelsea will be eliminated in this round. Arsenal have already beaten Liverpool at home once this season, so hopefully they will replicate the superb performance once more. But we have to say the February fixture schedule looks even tougher now.

Players rating

Fabiaski: 7
Made a couple of superb saves. On the other hand, he made a mess of a simple kick.

Jenkinson: 7
Lively on the right flank and delivered a number of excellent crosses. He was quick and created many chances, going forward in this game. His effort was parried by the goalkeeper into Santi's path, leading to Arsenal's fourth goal. If he cuts out silly defensive errors and finds consistency in his performance, he will be a good cover for Sagna.

Mertesacker: 6
Provided an assist for Poldi's second goal by flicking Gnabry's corner perfectly to the far post, but less convincing than usual on the defensive side of his game this night.

Koscielny: 8

He was a beast.

Gibbs: 7
Set up for Giroud to score in the 86th minute through his cutback.

Wilshere: 7
Left a gap in front of the back four. Shown a yellow card.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Obviously short of match fitness. Looked rusty and lacked sharpness. He was robbed by Moussa with the result that Coventry hit the post. Apparently, captain on the night, Mertesacker gave him an earful, which the Ox took positively. Replaced by Zelalem in the 71st minute.

Gnabry: 6

Not an eye-catching display, but he did OK.

Özil: 7

Provided an assist for Poldi's first goal with a perfectly-weighed pass to his compatriot. His stoppage-time effort hit the post. There was an argument that he should be rested for this game because of an apparent dip in his form. But as Wenger usually does to his out-of-sorts players, such as Aaron Ramsey last season, he kept Özil in the starting line-up and played him for a full 90 minutes.

Podolski: 8

Great finish from a deadly finisher. Scored his first goal from a tight angle after rounding the goalkeeper and the second with a header. Replaced by Giroud in the 79th minute.

Bendtner: 5

At least he offered good entertainment value through a couple of air shots. Static. Lucky we didn't have to regret his missed chances. 



Cazorla: 7
71st-minute substitute for Bendtner. Continued his scintillating form by scoring his third goal in two games. 

Zelalem: 6
The 16-year-old made history by making a senior debut as the first Arsenal player born after Wenger took charge of the Club. Looked comfortable on the ball. Some fans heaped praises for his performance, but we didn't see anything special in his display this night.

Giroud: 7
Scored a goal within 6 minutes of his coming on the pitch. Good finish, but we didn't see the point of the substitution. Wenger should have left him on the bench to keep him fresh for the Southampton game, but in the hindsight, perhaps scoring the goal has done his confidence good.

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