Arsenal saw off a brave Coventry side with a comprehensive 4-0 victory in a rainy Friday night at the Emirates. Despite the best efforts of the away side, we weren't really troubled. In fact, the biggest concern of the night were the failing floodlights in the stadium at the end of the first half. Honestly, it's bad enough fans continue to be fleeced for ticket prices, but now the club are really taking the piss demanding that we provide our our light...
After Arsenal predictably dominated the opening exchanges, chances of on a upset looked less and less likely with each passing moment and the match was over as a contest as quickly as the half hour mark as the Gunners were soon two goals to the good thanks to Lukas Podolski's brace. His first came as he latched on to a delightful Mesut Ozil pass before taking the ball around Joe Murphy in the Coventry goal and sliding home with his left foot. The German made it two after stealing in at the far post to head in from close range following Per Mertesacker's flicked header from a corner kick. 'Poldi' could have even had a third soon after but his right-footed effort from the edge of the box went skyward, denying him what would have been a 'perfect Hat trick'.
Since his return from injury, Poldolski has been the subject of a lot of discussion among the Arsenal following. Be it the debate over his ability to lead the line, his role in the team and even his future, with there even being some talk that he may be surplus to requirements. Against Coventry, he started off on the left hand side and was once again far more effective than when tasked with playing in a more central role.
That he can be a vital member of the squad is surely obvious and it's amazing to think there are any doubts about that. I for one certainly do not believe Arsenal any in the sort of position to consider a player with the credentials and talent of Podolski as someone to discard. He may have only shown flashes in his Arsenal career to date but when he is fit and firing, he is a joy to behold. Hopefully this can spark a run of form that casts those lingering doubts aside.
In complete contrast, may I present a certain Niklas Bendtner. Just the other day, the all-powerful owner of this site Mr. Mean Lean suggested that 'Soopa Nik' be given a secon... thir...fourth chance to prove himself a key component in a title challenging team. His two goals so far this season almost looked like some small green shoots that would eventually allow him to blossom into the player he (and he alone) has promised to be for a long time.
Presented with the opportunity against the League One side, he reverted to type with the kind of dim performance that wasn't even befitting of that very division Coventry currently ply their trade. There was nothing in his overall display that suggested he is anything near what Arsenal require in that centre forward position. His movement was poor, his work rate questionable and as for his finishing? Well, I need not bother pointing you in the direction of the GIFs circulating of his shanked shots against The Sky Blues.
Even his lack of positional sense leaves a lot to be desired and dare I say, is even frustrating his teammates. On at least two occasions during the first half, it was looked as though the usually mild-mannered Keiran Gibbs was having a stern word with Bendtner over his failure to create space for himself and thus be a useful target on the many occasions the full back was in an advanced position ready to deliver the ball.
Whatever it is he offers, it's not enough. You could swap Bendtner for any middle of the road Premier League striker and they would bring about as much to the table as he does. It is difficult to see why he still remains an option for the boss.
Bendtner's inclusion was mainly due to the fact this was a cup game and that another big league match is just a few short days away. This meant that the manager had to rotate and leave some of his 'big names' on the bench. I didn't really see the need in bringing on Carzola and Giroud when the game was essentially over but they both did manage to get on the scoresheet late on so I guess it fires them up and gets them in the habit ahead the tough run of games over the coming weeks and months.
Got it Cov-ered
As stated, the game was won long before the first half even drew to a close. To that end, with no real danger of defeat, the second 45 saw Arsenal play very much with that proverbial handbrake the manager likes to speak of. To their credit, the opposition actually tried to play. Coventry were not there to 'park the bus' nor did they resort to roughhouse tactics. Instead, they gave a decent account of themselves under the failing floodlights of the Emirates probably deserved something for their efforts. The late blitz put some gloss on the scoreline but was actually probably harsh on the visitors. In the end however, a fully professional Arsenal performance saw us through rather easily. Something of relief given some of the struggles against lower league opposition over the last few years. Another sign of a maturing team.
With the game safe, the manager saw fit to hand an opportunity to the highly rated youngster Gideon Zalalem. At the tender ago just 16 years old, it is remarkable and almost inconceivable that he was making his senior debut for the club. When I was that age, I was throwing up after relatively small amounts of alcohol and being really awkward around girls... actually not much has changed.
Anyway, after some fleeting appearances in preseason, young Gideon sent many Arsenal fans into something of a frenzy with impressive dribbling and passing ability that exceeded his young years. There was certainly evidence to suggest there may well be a bright star in the making here.
Against Coventry, he didn't exactly light up the game (i'll stop now) when he came on. A couple of safe passes but he chose to simply try and blend in rather than stand out. Sensible rather than spectacular.
If anything it was a reminder that it is far, far too early to get too excited. Regardless of ability, at such a young age, you don't expect he will be seeing regular first team action for a few years and probably wont peak for another decade (feeling old, yet?). It's a long time to wait and impossible to tell how much will change before then. The landscape of football will be dramatically different. Arsene Wenger almost certainly wont still be manager and who's to say Zelalem will still be, or even want to stay at the club by the 2020s! Optimism about the player is fine but it would be wise to sprinkle a little caution over that and keep our feet firmly on the ground.
If I can be permitted a whinge, it was disappointing to look online in the immediate aftermath of the match only to find more people discussing the 'illusory' Draxler transfer as opposed to the match. It's reached the point where football is officially fucked when people are more excited by, and would rather talk about, transfers and transfer speculation rather than what actually happens on the pitch.
Drawn to Success
And so we march on in the FA Cup. No injuries to report from the Coventry game and a confidence booster in terms of goals. A favourable, preferably home draw in the next round would be extremely welcome given our commitments in other competitions. Fifth round weekend falls between the midweek League encounter with Manchester United and the following week's Champions League first leg against Bayern Munich so hopefully the balls come out of the bag kindly. Either way, this is a competition the manager has to be looking at as a realistic chance of succeeding in this season. Arsenal have a great relationship with the FA Cup and it's time to rekindle that romance.