Saturday, 30 January 2016

Gunners go through

Arsenal 2-0 Burnley

Arsenal progressed to the next round of the FA Cup with a hard earned win against Burnley on Saturday, as the Gunners welcomed back Francis Coquelin and Thomas Rosicky to first team action after long term injuries.

Arsene Wenger made a number of changes to the starting line up with David Ospina, Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel, Callum Chambers, Coquelin, Alex Iwobi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez all making their first starts in a number of weeks, while new addition Mohammed Elneny made his debut.

Despite all the changes Arsenal began the game well, quickly establishing their superiority and dominating the possession. There appeared to be huge amounts of space on both flanks for the full backs to exploit and time and time again both Gibbs and Chambers were able to embark on overlapping runs to support the attack and get in behind the Burnley defence cause great problems. Although the opening goal arrived after only 16 minutes it was no surprise that it arrived from an Arsenal full back.

It was a goal which was synonymous with the Gunners attacking play under Arsene Wenger as the build up played showed great patience, with the ball being passed from one Arsenal player to another as it was played across the box with the Arsenal players waiting for the opportune moment to play the incisive pass. It finally arrived when Alexis passed the ball through the defender’s legs and into the path of Callum Chambers, on the edge of the box. The former Southampton man showed the finishing prowess of a centre forward as without a moment’s hesitation he curled the ball into the far corner of the net with the outside of his foot. It was a truly wonderful finish from Chambers, who Wenger afterwards explained, showcases such ability on a regular basis at the training ground.

Arsenal continued to dominate the game after scoring the opening goal but did appear sloppy at the back and ended up conceding from the very first piece of sustained pressure from Burnley. The visitors were awarded their first corner of the match and the Gunners failed to clear it and deal with the subsequent danger. The Gunners players were clearly panicking and Kieran Gibbs slipped, taking out Coquelin with him as the ball was worked out to the right flank. Then as the ball was delivered into the area, Chambers completely lost Sam Vokes, allowing the Burnley striker to get goal side of him and head home when completely unmarked.

Once Burnley had equalised, the game appeared to change, with the visitors gaining confidence. Suddenly Burnley were full of energy, chasing down the ball and closing down the Gunners in packs. Arsenal were suddenly under pressure and struggled to regain a foothold in the game as they came under pressure. Olivier Giroud just did not appear to be interested and simply strolled around the pitch failing to exert himself on the match, leaving Arsenal with barely any focal point up front.

The half time whistle appeared to come at the right time, providing Arsenal with an opportunity to regroup and they came out for the second half in a different frame of mind. Once again they took control of the match and were soon back in front through a wonderful counter attacking move. Alex Iwobi who once again took his chance to impress, fitting in seamlessly, and linked up well with Giroud before showing the maturity and vision to pick out the supporting run of Oxlade-Chamberlain and play a perfectly weighted ball into his path. Oxlade-Chamberlain has not been at his best in recent weeks with his final ball being particularly weak, but on this occasion he did everything right. Lifting his head, picking out the right pass and playing it perfectly to Alexis for the Chilean to smash the ball home, first time, without having to break his stride. It was an excellent move, sealed with an emphatic finish.

Having taken the lead for a second time, Arsenal never looked back. Burnley were not allowed back into the game again as the Gunners held firm and restricted the visitors with ease to ensure safe passage to the fifth round of the cup.

Right at the end of the game Theo Walcott had a wonderful opportunity to make it 3-1 when released through on goal. However with only the goalkeeper to beat, Walcott just took too long to decide what to do and in the end as he attempted to take the ball around Tom Heaton, the goalkeeper was able to get down and get his hands onto the ball, dispossessing Walcott.

This was not a vintage performance from Arsenal, but having made so many changes to the starting line up, introducing players who haven’t played for a number of weeks, Wenger will be pleased his side managed to get the job done. Mohammed Elneny enjoyed a fine debut, showcasing attributes which will endear him to the Arsenal faithful such as a great work ethic and commitment, as well as a willingness to shoot from distance, something that the Gunners do not do on a regular basis. The Egyptian will have to work on his upper body strength however as he was outmuscled on a number of occasions, something with Alex Iwobi did not suffer. The youngster’s upper body strength is most impressive and his skill set and speed are weapons which allow him to feel at home in this team. With Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott not firing on all cylinders in recent weeks, Iwobi could be an interesting alternative option for Wenger, if the manager is willing to take a risk as the season enters its most crucial phase.

With that in mind it was a most welcome sight to see Coquelin back in an Arsenal shirt as his screening of the defence has been sorely missed. The return of Rosicky too was greeted with a great cheer from the Emirates crowd as they welcomed back the Czech international. If he can return to his best in the coming weeks, his presence will further boost the strength in depth of the squad as will the impending return of Danny Wellbeck, offering another option in attack. If the Gunners can return back to their pre-Christmas form, the return to an almost full complement could help propel them to a sustained title challenge.

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