Job done. Arsenal progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup as a makeshift side put in a patchwork performance but did enough to win the tie. Both sides could – perhaps should – have scored more goals but in the end an Arsenal win is a fair reflection of the ninety minutes.
It’s a difficult game to draw substantial conclusions from, more that we can see the issues affecting individual members of the squad and the potential of others. There’s an element of confirmation bias in any judgements passed and we tend to forget this XI has not played together with any regularity. Some understandings have to be forged and others never will be.
Arsène didn’t deny his philosophy toward yesterday’s match was simple,
We are still in three competitions and we will try every time to get a team out to pass the round.
None of us would argue with that, I don’t think. Certainly not in the case of the FA Cup, even if that to some still represents the best chance of silverware this season.
There were plenty of positives to take from the match. Mohammed Elneny had a decent début, at times seemingly surprised by the physical aspects of the game but generally tidy in his performance. It was fairly evident that he is still adapting to the English game and will take a few more games to do so.
When they will come will be interesting. The presumption is that Aaron Ramsey will return on Tuesday against Southampton with most likely Mathieu Flamini alongside him. Elneny could fulfil the defensive midfielder role and it must be tempting for Arsène to include the Egyptian with the match being at home. It would be surprising if Francis Coquelin plays twice in a week at this early stage of his return.
Elneny was neat in his passing, looking for the simple, effective ball rather than the defence-splitting or overly ambitious. Some might argue overly cautious but better safe than sorry. It wasn’t perfect; he played his part in the comedy of errors which was Burnley’s equaliser, failing to appreciate the danger as the cross came in from the right. It was a ball he should have been more alert to, more aware of. Next time, it will be interesting to see if he is more spritely in closing down the player in possession.
Other impressive performances came from Alexis and Alex Iwobi. The youngster certainly earned his praise, unafraid to fill the sizeable shoes of Mesut Özil yesterday. Overall his link-up play was good, energetic and justifying his inclusion. If Iwobi finds himself becoming more involved as the season progresses, it is merited.
Alexis meanwhile was back. Back in the XI and back to his usual self. No sign of niggles as he harried, harassed and bamboozled the visitors at any given opportunity, sometimes beating himself as well as the defence. His winner was Arsenal at their attacking best, swift and incisive in transferring the ball from their own penalty area to the Burnley net in a matter of seconds.
Arsène observed that the Chilean was ready to return a fortnight ago but that he was held back to make sure that his recovery was full and complete. On yesterday’s evidence, it was caution well heeded as Alexis looked arguably at his sharpest this season.
Among all this glad-handing and back slapping are some concerns though. Theo Walcott’s confidence is low and evident in his lacklustre finish at the end when clean through on goal. An in-form Walcott buries that sort of chance with his eyes close. The out-of-sorts Walcott finds himself robbed by a good save by the goalkeeper having spurned the opportunity to curl the ball past the advancing Heaton.
It’s hard to know what to do with a problem like Theo. Joel Campbell has edged ahead of him if selection comes down to form but Arsène’s loyalty to players often over-rides that and the England international may yet retain his place in the side for coming matches.
Defensively, the same disorganisation which allowed Chelsea to take the lead were evident in Burnley’s goal. Kieran Gibbs slip which took Francis Coquelin’s ankle was almost calamitous for the Frenchman but he recovered. The Arsenal defence didn’t, Chambers found the wrong side of Vokes whose header was perfectly placed to score.
It was a mixed afternoon for Chambers. The goal was a negative whilst his own effort was sumptuous, curled with the aplomb we expect from the likes of Sanchez and Özil not a central defender/midfielder turning out as emergency right back. His inclusion underlines the depths to which Mathieu Debuchy has fallen in the pecking order.
Whether I would be confident in Chambers at full back for a sustained run in the side, I am not so sure. He may have history in the role but certainly in learning the defensive midfield position, he has lost some of his positional sense on the flanks. Perhaps it will come if needed but there will be little surprise if Carl Jenkinson is kept next season to challenge and cover for Hector Bellerin.
It doesn’t help that the defensive pairing of Gabriel and Koscielny isn’t working particularly well. Whilst Mertesacker complements both, they seem to similar in style to work together, immediately at least. Koscielny in particular seems to be going through one of his error-prone spells. Hopefully it is short-term and not costly; it nearly was yesterday when Gray should have done better when the game was scoreless.
Arsenal had to work hard for the win and did so. At the end of the day, that’s what was needed to win and the XI produced it. I’m not getting hung up on the ins and outs of individuals based on a team selection that hasn’t played together before and probably won’t again unless the balls fall kindly in tonight’s fifth round draw.
Put some of those performances into the main XI and I might have a different view on it all but until that happens, it’s Sunday and we’re through and that will do for now.