I wouldn’t have described yesterday’s victory against Doncaster Rovers as ‘thrilling’. Nor would I put it down as ‘comprehensive’. It was certainly a win and safe passage to the fourth round against Norwich at The Emirates, but it was hardly a humdinger of a cup tie, was it?
As expected Arsène rotated his whole team but perhaps what was no expected, was to see Alexis in the starting XI, although questions over getting him match fit will obviously be raised. It’s the only real explanation as to why we saw him play the full 90 in a competition which is hardly first choice. Although given that we play on Monday, I guess it affords the level of rest that Arsène would probably say is acceptable.
We started brightly. As you’d expect we dominated possession of the ball at home and before Theo’s composed finish on around 25 minutes, Giroud had hit the crossbar with a superb bicycle kick, which had the ‘keeper beat all ends up. He must be wondering if the ‘100 club’ possibilities will ever come and even yesterday after the game I saw some people wondering if it’s starting to play on his mind. Perhaps. But for him to go the whole season without scoring would be surely unlikely, so I’m sure it will happen, sooner rather than later.
In midfield we had Elneny and Wilshere, who I thought had a particularly impressive first half, pulling the strings and finding Arsenal players at ease. Much like most of the team we tailed off in the second half, but that’s probably to be expected of him given his injury concerns and lack of a summer training schedule. If he can start to build fitness and play like that on a more regular basis, then we’ll have a real asset on our hands and who knows, maybe he can start to challenge Xhaka or Ramsey for a starting slot?
Defensively we were tested a couple of times but it was a night which was more about concentration and what we did when we had possession of the football. Mertesacker being flanked by Chambers and Holding looked good to me and the only real shame of the evening was that he came off at halftime with a hip injury, which was confirmed by Arsène afterwards, so that’s a real shame in setting him back from getting any chance at the first team.
His replacement Dasilva did ok and looked tidy enough, but it was the wing backs that I was watching a little more carefully, in terms of the young players. I think it’s fair to say that having seen him a few times in the defensive side of the team, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is most certainly not a left wing back. He didn’t look 100% comfortable and whilst we can appreciate the pace he had to win the ball back when it looked like a Doncaster player was through on goal, one must just not hope for double injury blows to Kolasinac and Monreal, because if both of those players go down then we really are short on left wing options.
But it’s the same on the right too. We’re kind of banking on Bellerin’s fitness all season really, because Reiss Nelson looked expectedly raw, which is fine given his age but we shouldn’t be thinking that an injury to Bellerin this season will see him become the saviour. With Debuchy in Siberia and unlikely to ever play for Arsenal again it really does put Nelson at full back as the only other option. His defensive awareness will need to be rapidly improved upon though. He was certainly spared his blushes by the pace of Maitland-Niles on one occasion.
But hey, he’s still so young and could probably take another two years of development before he’s ready and even then he’d still only be 19, so there’s still bags of potential for this young lad, so that’s something we can be excited for the future for.
As for the rest of the players, I thought Theo did what Theo does well, which was score and still look a little wasteful and anonymous sometimes. The guy really is an enigma but he puts the ball in the back of the net and ultimately on a night like last night that’s the most important thing.
On the other flank I thought Alexis wasn’t exactly great and it felt to my untrained eyes as if he knew he was playing against inferior opposition and so decided at times that dribbling around three was much more preferable to making a pass at the right time. Having said that, his ball in to Theo for his goal was sumptuous, so perhaps the Chilean was simply copying the goalscorer in delivering end product but little else.
We now have five days before our next game and it means more recovery for players who didn’t play yesterday and the chance to get everyone back and ready for a home game against West Brom. So far the rotation is working ok but we just have to hope that Arsène keeps the balance right.
Catch you all tomorrow.