Saturday, 25 January 2014

Friday firsts at the Grove as Wenger gives nothing away about Draxler

Morning Gooners.

It was good to get a routine win in the FA Cup against lower league opposition and our club's name into the hat for the fifth round. There were none of the symptoms witnesses against Blackburn last night, which I think goes a long way to show the mentality of the club has changed.

I was slightly surprised to see Mesut Ozil and Serge Gnabry in the starting line up. Arsenal's mega-money signing, making his first start in the world's oldest cup competition, has played in 26 of the club's 34 fixtures this season and I was expecting him to start from the bench last night. But Wenger, who is clearly taking our involvement in the competition seriously this season, played him for the whole game.

Gnabry was also a surprise inclusion in my eyes. He's started three fixtures back to back following Theo Walcott's untimely injury. And although he's only played in 12 games this season, I'd expected the manager to give him a rest ahead of Tuesday's fixture with Southampton.

However it was another German who impressed with a brace of goals. When Lucas Podolski came on against Fulham following his injury, the left-footed forward had a point to prove. Almost immediately he made the difference with a fantastic shot. He looked hungry for the opportunity to impress the manager. Last night he got his chance from the start.

Arsenal were camped in the opposition half for a good period of the first half. Probing away and attempting to find an opening. Jack Wilshere, playing the more deeper role in midfield last night than he's used to, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain combined well to deliver the ball to those players ahead of them. But I thought Carl Jenkinson at right back was providing some excellent balls which on two occasions we should have done better to convert.

It was the King of the Assist Ozil who found the right pass to open up Coventry. The German opened the door to his compatriot Podolski on 15 minutes and the 28-year-old took the ball passed the goalkeeper and found the back of the net from an acute angle.

The pressure was continued and the Gunners would not allow Coventry out of their own half. The home side's second goal of the night coming from a set piece. Gnabry delivering a perfect corner from the left which was flicked on at the near post by Captain Per Mertesacker to an onrushing Podolski at the back post. A classic German one-two-three for Arsenal.

Lukasz Fabianski had a pretty uneventful first half in the Arsenal goal, making only his fourth appearance of the season as the club's chosen domestic cups keeper. But he was called into action when Coventry Captain Carl Baker brought the ball out of this own half and proceed to run at the Arsenal goal pretty much unchallenged. When he reached the Arsenal box, his fierce shot was palmed over the bar by Fabianski.

Podolski had opportunities to complete his hattrick in the first half, one of those gifted to him on a plate by a wonderful Jenkinson cross, but the left sided attacker couldn't take it. A power failure in the minutes leading up to half time took out some of the flood lights but it didn't daze Arsenal's attacking play and Wilshere had an opportunity to add to our lead as the half concluded, but he fluffed his lines.

As the remaining flood lights returned after half time, Arsenal took time to recover their first half control on the game. It was the away team who had been sent out with a brief to press the Gunners higher up the pitch and it had an impact. Arsenal were under pressure and Coventry created two good chances for Leon Clarke, one of which had Fabianski beaten but hit the outside of the keeper's left hand post and went wide.

It was after that Wenger's men once again took control of the game. Oxlade-Chamberlain was pushed to the floor in the box, but wasn't awarded a penalty. Another chance fell to Nicklas Bendtner but on his return from injury he looked rusty and his shot was wide when you would have expected him to score.

Another highlight of the first ever Friday night game at the Grove came when Wenger brought on 16-year-old Gedion Zelalem to debut. The teenager is the first player the Frenchman has handed a first team appearance to who has been born after Wenger took charge in the red half of north London. He took the place of Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Santi Cazorla came on for Bendtner.

And Zelalem took to the pitch and graced it like the a player beyond his young age. It will be interesting to see how much more game time the manager will give him this season given our fight for the Premier League and Champions League is in full swing. I guess that question will be answered by who we are drawn against in the next round of the FA Cup.

Olivier Giroud replaced Podolski with 11 minutes to go. And the Frenchman fancied his chanced to add to the scoreline. Just five minutes after taking his place on the field, Arsenal's number 12 found the back of the net with a well executed left foot shot after good work from Cazorla and Kieran Gibbs.

And it was the little Spaniard who put the cherry on top of the cake with one minute of normal time remaining. Jenkinson's vicious shot from the right was parried into the path of Cazorla who made no mistake with a first time shot.

A routine performance against a spirited Coventry side, who's fans were fantastic.

Many of the post match questions for Arsene Wenger were about Arsenal's interest in Schalke's Julian Draxler. He played it cool and said that a deal for the 20-year-old was an illusion in his post match press confernce, but I'm sure I've seen that cheeky grin he gave in the post match TV interview somewhere before.

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