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Forget about your worries and strife as Arsenal deliver bare necessities

Arsenal 3 Shrewsbury 1

Gibbs 33, Oxlade-Chamberlain 58, Benayoun 78; Collins 16

They started poorly and showed some familiar defensive weaknesses, but Arsenal‘s young Carling Cup team, featuring seven teenagers in all, eventually imposed their quality on a Shrewsbury side who pushed them hard before fading towards the end. A hat-trick of first-time Arsenal goalscorers – Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yossi Benayoun – sealed the Premier League side’s place in Saturday’s fourth round draw.

After Saturday’s limp second half display at Ewood Park, Arsenal returned to the competition seen by many as the root cause of a slump which had seen them win just six of 22 games in all competitions – and three of 16 in the league – since the 2-1 defeat to Birmingham in last season’s final.

Arsène Wenger could not have asked for a more favourable draw for his beleaguered squad than a home tie against Shrewsbury, third in League Two but 3-1 conquerors of Swansea in the previous round. On Monday he promised to “give a chance for young players to shine and find the right mixture in this competition. That means having the right balance between experience and youth”, and he delivered exactly that with a starting line-up including the 20-year old Francis Coquelin and four teenagers in Carl Jenkinson (19), Ignasi Miquel (18), Emmanuel Frimpong (19) and Oxlade-Chamberlain (18):

Fabiański

Jenkinson – Miquel – Djourou – Gibbs

Oxlade-Chamberlain – Coquelin – Frimpong – Benayoun

Park – Chamakh

Given Arsenal’s woeful inconsistency so far this season, a win and an uninhibited performance were the bare necessities required to relieve the worries and strife which had only multiplied after the defeat at Blackburn. (And, yes, I am channelling The Jungle Book. That’s what the start to the season has done to me.)

A young, inexperienced side gets off to a slow start

It should not have come as a major surprise that a team lacking in experience and familiarity of playing together should struggle in the early stages, but the natives were given reason to feel restless as they fell behind after barely a quarter of an hour.

The home side looked good in possession, but without the ball displayed the same frailties as their first team counterparts. After a couple of early efforts by Marouane Chamakh, an enterprising Shrewsbury team soon established themselves firmly in the game. Mark Wright had already served due warning by hitting a post when Marvin Morgan‘s cross was headed in from close range by James Collins, with the unimpressive Johan Djourou – captain for the night – watching from afar.

Gibbs was the first of three players to register their first Arsenal goal (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

With Łukasz Fabiański looking less than assured on corners and crosses, the visitors had chances to extend their advantage. Wright cut inside, only to see his shot deflected wide. And only a late Francis Coquelin intervention prevented another opportunity.

The young Frenchman was Arsenal’s most prominent player in the opening stages – tenacious in defence and willing in attack – but the right-sided combination of Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also looked promising coming forward. And it was the young full back who set up the equaliser. His pinpoint cross took a slight deflection and was met at the far post by Kieran Gibbs, whose downward header could not be kept out by Ben Smith.

The goal seemed to settle Arsenal’s nerves as they finished the half on top. Park Chu-Young, on his debut, sent a curling effort wide and Emmanuel Frimpong had a couple of efforts saved by Smith as the half-time whistle came as a relief to Shrewsbury.

Arsenal turn dominance into goals

However, the second half started much as the first had ended, with Arsenal dominating both possession and chances and growing in assurance as Shrewsbury began to tire. In particular, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace and directness, allied with a useful array of crosses, started to cause the visitors no end of problems.

Oxlade-Chamberlain marked his first Arsenal start with a fine goal (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Fittingly, it was the England under-21 international who finally put Arsenal into a deserved lead just before the hour, finishing a patient build-up with a low right-footed drive into the bottom corner from about 25 yards. A debut goal was a fitting way for the former Southampton player to mark his first senior start for the club.

Having overturned their early deficit and with the game under control, the final 20 minutes provided an opportunity to introduce more of Arsenal’s promising teenagers. The pacy 18-year old Japanese Ryo Miyaichi came on for Park, while Dutch midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup replaced Frimpong. The latter, who turns 19 on Friday, had been on the field for barely a minute when he seized the opportunity to drive to the by-line and pull the ball for Yossi Benayoun, who had grown in influence as the game progressed, to slot home from about seven yards.

All that remained was for Arsenal to see out the final 12 minutes without incident and for a third 18-year old substitute, Chuks Aneke, to earn his senior debut. The Emirates crowd, tetchy initially after conceding the early goal, were in full voice by the end, launching into a lusty chorus of ‘There’s only one Arsène Wenger’ in support of the manager. After their initial stumble, Arsenal had eventually done what was necessary to maintain their place in a competition which may represent their best chance of silverware this season. That’s all that matters at the moment. Fans will hope that the winning habit – a one-game unbeaten run! – rubs off on the first team, who host Bolton on Saturday.

Post-match reaction and analysis

After the game, Arsène Wenger was relieved to have come through a nerve-jangling evening with a win:

It was a bit nervy because we played against a good side. They were direct but not without technique. They had a direct game but they played it with intelligence and efficiency. They had a few dangerous situations in the first half, even after they scored. So 1-1 was not too bad for us at half time and in the second half we took over, they dropped physically and we played in one half after that.

He praised the performances of Oxlade-Chamberlain:

Oxlade-Chamberlain grew through the game and became stronger and stronger. In the first half he was a bit timid and suddenly he grew in stature in the second half. It was unbelievable. What came out, you didn’t expect it after the first half. He became stronger and stronger. You could see that he will be a first-team player here, that is for sure. He still has things to work on but, very quickly, he will be knocking on the door.

And he answered the growing speculation about his future with the following:

Whether I work here for the next 10 years or the next day here, I will give my maximum for the club. I will let other people assess the situation. I focus on doing well for this club, that is all. I am not bothered at all by all this speculation.

I can understand that people are unhappy and criticise but people are very quick to go overboard. I prefer it if people say I am good but I cannot complain when we lose a game and you are criticised. When we do well, we take all the plaudits so we have to take the blame when it doesn’t go well.

No detailed analysis tonight, as I was only able to listen to audio commentary of the game, but the team did exactly what they needed to, with a number of the younger players making the most of their moment in the spotlight. Oxlade-Chamberlain has drawn obvious comparisons to Theo Walcott – young, fast and ex-Southampton – but as Wenger has pointed out he is more of a winger/midfielder, whereas Walcott is a winger/striker. He is also stockier than Walcott, and at this stage in his career seems to have more tricks and a more consistent delivery on his crosses. Of course, only time will tell if he can reproduce tonight’s form against top-class opposition on a regular basis.

Coquelin also caught the attention, popping up in both boxes to make useful contributions and also showing off a good passing range. Frimpong was energetic and, as he did against Liverpool, showed that he is not afraid to take on shots from distance.

Beyond that, it seemed that Jenkinson linked up well with Oxlade-Chamberlain – although he had a few too many shaky moments defensively – while Ignasi Miquel was calm and assured. Fabiański and Djourou both experienced their wobbles – no surprise there, but the latter certainly did not set a shining example as captain as Arsenal’s defensive frailties were all too apparent in the first half. Park took a while to get going and was perhaps still a bit rusty, but will have benefitted from getting 70 minutes under his belt.

All in all, a pretty decent night’s work.

Some fans had argued in the wake of Saturday’s defeat that Wenger should have played his first team to give them a much-needed opportunity to gel. That was never going to happen. The starting XI can work on familiarisation in training, but can only really develop in the heat of battle against top-level opposition. Featuring first team players here would have done nothing more than put unnecessary miles on the clock and risk potential injury – and Arsenal have more than enough of the latter to contend with already. Instead, Wenger rightly gave new and fringe players their chance to shine and make a case for inclusion in the senior line-up – and on the evidence of this game Coquelin, Frimpong and Oxlade-Chamberlain can expect to become regulars on the bench for the first team at the very least. The experience gained here in a competitive match, albeit against lower league opposition, can only have done them good.

Arsenal man of the match: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. First start, first goal, and a performance full of pace, directness and end product. If he continues to progress, it won’t be long until Theo Walcott’s starting place comes under threat.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

6 Responses to Forget about your worries and strife as Arsenal deliver bare necessities

  1. Northbanksy says:

    Great to see the youngsters step up but I can’t help thinking that the win is inspite of Arsene Wengers presence rather than because of it.
    “I can understand that people are unhappy and criticise but people are very quick to go overboard…” Yeah right Arsene…15 points from the last 16 premiership games…the critics have been really quick to go overboard!!!!

    • Tim says:

      I think Wenger has drawn a line under last season and is talking about how people have jumped the gun this season about the performances of what is now a very different team. He’s wrong to ignore the past completely, but he also has a point. Certain sections of the media have been circling like vultures since Cesc and Nasri left, and when most of the questions he has to field are along the lines of “Are you feeling the pressure?”, “Are you going to resign?” and “Are you now so incompetent that you need to hire a defensive coach?” it’s frankly amazing that he has the grace to answer questions at all. Fergie and pretty much every other manager would just storm out.

      I’m not sure Wenger deserves much credit for doing what he normally does in this competition and sending out the kids to beat a League 2 side, but it’s also unfair to say they won in spite of him. Shrewsbury did beat Swansea, after all. The most important thing is that he put confidence in them, and they delivered despite early adversity.

      Now we can only hope the first team can do the same.

  2. jeremy Smithson says:

    Wenger has been arrogant answering the media questions.Beating Shrewsbury 3-1 is one thing.Botlon on Saurday is another proposition.Lose and it will be back to square one.. I know he has been give n the vote of confidence.
    It all depends.If the gunners continue to lose and are on the downhill,all bets are off.BTw another goal conceded thru a header. Expect Bolton to launch an aerial assault and from a team who lost their last four epl games. It aint going to be easy.i

    • Tim says:

      You’re right that Bolton will be a tougher proposition than Shrewsbury. We’ll just have to see how the team copes.

      But “arrogant” in dealing with the media? Hardly. He gave Shrewsbury plenty of credit, and the amazing thing is that he puts up with the barrage of leading, negative questions without walking out. Yes, he’s tetchy with his answers, but equally Fergie, Dalglish, Harry et al would have just stormed out or started banning certain journalists.

  3. stevetime says:

    I see that many are calling for Le Coq to be ahead of Frimfrim in the pecking order after this performance. While I agree that he is probably a more well rounded and cultured player, that isn’t quite what Arsenal need right now. I saw a comment a few weeks ago calling for Arsenal to find a Keane/Viera type. I think this will be Frimpong. Rash challenges, screaming, character, the ability to strike fear into grown men (Riquelme): he needs to stay close to the first team.

    That said, congrats to all the younguns and all the olduns for bouncing back from the weekend. I am one of the advocates for the 442, I hope it’s here to stay as the thought of RVP playing off of another striker is very encouraging.

    Congrats to Wenger for keeping Sebastian away from the first team for an unassuming tie. I think his biggest weakness with the media is being too nice sometimes. Piss in the press catering at the Emirates. Show some brass sir.

    • Tim says:

      They’re both fine young talents, and as you say both offer something slightly different to the side (as does the more creative Ozyakup). Hopefully they will continue to develop and become mainstays of the team in the future.

      I’ve long been an advocate of playing RvP as the second striker, although I’m not sure we have found the right long-term partner for him yet. It would create some interesting selection headaches in midfield – you couldn’t play both Arteta and Wilshere in the centre, for instance, so one would have to move out wide or sit on the bench, but the competition for places it would create would be no bad thing.

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