Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Arsenal get goals, confidence and a quarter-final place

While the FA Cup fifth round replay at the KC Stadium could have been a massive inconvenience for Arsenal, it could also serve as a springboard to injecting some much-needed confidence into a fragile team. The Gunners did suffer unwanted injuries that will stretch the squad in the coming weeks, but hopefully those will be offset by the confidence returning to a team that had looked low on it in the last month as Arsenal romped to a 4-0 victory on Humberside.
Both Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott have been short on goals recently, with Walcott in particular struggling to make any impact on matches. Hull’s defending was a bit suspect at times, and didn’t match the level they achieved in shutting Arsenal out at the Emirates in the original tie, but that didn’t worry Giroud or Walcott as both were able to bag braces and get back the feeling of hitting the back of the net.
Giroud might not have even played in the game as his wife gave birth to a son in the night before the game, but it’s to Giroud’s credit that he put himself up for selection. Having had such a special 24 hours before the match, Giroud could have come into the match at the KC feeling more relaxed than in previous games. Sometimes a bit of perspective is needed, and for Olivier Giroud, football won’t have felt like the most important thing in life prior to the game. He didn’t play like a striker under pressure and without a goal in 11 games as he led the line well and produced two smart finishes with his weaker right foot.
Having been on a barren run, Giroud probably couldn’t believe his luck when David Meyler played a suicidal pass across his own penalty area and allowed Giroud to pounce and slot the ball under the advancing goalkeeper to give Arsenal a first-half lead, following a rather uninspiring opening period to the game. Giroud then made the game safe with 20 minutes to go as he latched onto Theo Walcott’s deflected cross to steer a volley past the goalkeeper.
Walcott’s contribution to the second goal seemed to spark him into life after another quiet performance. While he continued to not look overly comfortable on the left, his ability to open up the goal and shoot with his right when cutting in from that side enabled him to slot home Arsenal’s third goal after a superb through pass from Joel Campbell. Walcott then rounded off the scoring late on with a deflected effort following a quick counter-attack involving Alex Iwobi.
Had Walcott not contributed earlier in the game, I doubt he’d have taken on the shot for the fourth goal. Almost more so than any over player in the squad, Walcott needs confidence to play well, so it bodes well for the rest of the season to see him actually make a difference in a game.
Along with the goal scorers, there were plenty of positives to take from the match. Joel Campbell gave another good showing the right as he grabbed a beautiful assist and tracked back well to support his full-back. There was another solid showing in central midfield from Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi shone in the attacking midfield role. It’s impressive to see a youngster like Iwobi be so confident to get on the ball and try and be the main creator in a team with more experienced players round him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues his run of FA Cup appearances with another outing in the quarter-final.
The injuries picked up are obviously a big concern. Amidst a changing back four, Calum Chambers continued his quiet improvement with an impressive defensive display that finished with him leading the back four from centre-back, having started the game at right-back, but ideally this wouldn’t have had to happen had the other recognised central defenders not gone off. While it looked nasty, as long as Per Mertesacker doesn’t have concussion, his head injury shouldn’t keep him out of action, but the muscular problems picked up by Gabriel and Aaron Ramsey are a worry. Having mainly featured in the cups, we could be about to see the likes of Chambers and Elneny play a big role in some big upcoming games.
On this occasion, I don’t think the injuries (or the banner displayed by a small number of away supporters after the game) should overshadow the positives from the game. We’ve not had much to shout about recently, so a 4-0 win and another FA Cup quarter-final is most welcome. It might not have been the main priority at the start of the season, but a third FA Cup win in a row would be a very special achievement, and with the home quarter-final with Watford to come, it’s an opportunity that Arsenal can’t afford to pass up on, especially with how the other competitions have gone recently.