Arsenal progressed to the fifth round of the FA cup after a 2-1 victory against Championship club Burnley.
The change of competition along with returning players from injury meant that Arsène was bound to play the rotation game. I feared that we may lack any sort of sharpness and fluidity but we were surprisingly pretty bright considering the mix and match selection.
Our midfield has been a big talking point in recent weeks, it has given us a few problems so it was no surprise to see Arsène change the entire unit. In came new signing Mohammed Elneny, the returning Francis Coquelin and the young Alex Iwobi so there were plenty of question marks about how it would function, not just in terms of new personnel but fitness also. It would seem as if work at London Colny proved to be a success as the trio gelled without much in the way of fuss.
Elneny was pretty much what I expected. We've all watched the YouTube videos right? Then we know that he is a ball recycler who drifts into good positions to receive and make passes. What I was unsure of was his work off the ball. Stuff like, what was he like when the other team were in possession? Well that was the part that interested me the most. He continuously closed down opposition players when they had the ball, not giving his opponent much time to lift his head and play a pass. He does appear to lack a little bit of physical strength in the challenges and I am hhe will correct this over time.
In the absence of Alexis and Coquelin in recent weeks/months not to mention Welbeck over a longer period, we have missed players with a natural instinct to put the opposition under pressure but now we not only have our energizer bunnies back, we look to have added another in Elneny.
Hopefully this will make the team far more aggressive in the next few weeks which will help both our defensive game as well as our attacking game.
I thought Coquelin did ok for a first game back but you can see that he is not at full pelt just yet. I'm intrigued to see if he now starts again on Tuesday after being replaced with twentyish minutes to go.
Alex Iwobi continues to impress in the Arsenal home shirt. I have said it before but it is remarkable just how composed the guy looks. Almost as if he is taking part in a local kick about in the park. Football doesn't look very complicated for him.
I was impressed with his off the ball movements, instinctively drifting into areas of the pitch that made him available for the pass. His awareness of his team mates is also very impressive.
Like a lot of our young players, I am interested to see what he will be like once he matures further, gets a run of games and gets even more confidence in his ability. One to watch for sure it seems.
Alexis made a big difference to our attacks, even if he is not yet at his sharpest. Just before he picked up his hamstring injury, I thought his final pass was at a very high level. Before that his creativity had been a bit hit or miss. Think back to his excellent reverse pass to Özil against Norwich and there were a few more excellent key passes to the likes of Ramsey, Walcott et al. Yesterday you could see that his radar was not quite attuned just yet. But Alexis does not have to be at his best to make the difference, a goal and an assist tells you all you need to know.
Before that Burnley had given us a few scares and we have to thank David Ospina for bailing us and Koscielny out of a few spots of bother. Koscielny had lost a duel against Andre Gray which allowed the Burnley top scorer the chance to race in on Ospina's goal, his attempted chip was clawed away to safety by Arsenal's number two keeper. Moments later, Ospina raced off his line to pounce on a ball that the Burnley forward was sprinting after inside the penalty box. Any mistakes and Ospina is pounced upon so it is only fair to acknowledge the positive contributions he makes.
What a goal from Calum Chambers on 19 minutes though. Iwobi and Alexis working the ball around the edge of the penalty area until Alexis prodded a ball to Chambers who with the outside of his right foot he bent the ball around the keeper into the far corner. Wow! Had that have been Alexis we'd be all purring that it was the finish of a world class player. Take a bow Chambers.
Ten minutes later Burnley were level. At the time I was more concerned that Francis Coquelin was down following a crunching tackle from Kieran Gibbs. We didn't deal with a cross and Vokes headed past Ospina. I was weirdly not bothered about it though as I was so confident that we would still win the game.
Some other points that I found quite interesting was the performance of Oliver Giroud. I want to watch the game again but it felt as if he was more mobile than usual. Instead of occupying a stationary central position and battling with two centre backs he was picking up passes in between the full backs and centre backs and running at the Burnley defence, not something we are used to seeing.
I could well be imagining the entire thing as I watched the game with only about 3 hours sleep. The last five minutes of the game was actually a mixture of weird mini dreams and the match. Very strange and frustrating.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs looked sharper than they have in a while so that was very pleasing to see. Ox was far more secure with his passing and he caused Burnley many problems with his dribbling. The only issue I had with Oxlade-Chamberlain was his desire to return to 2011 with his corner kicks hitting the first man. Someone tell him those days are over, or we could just get Özil back on duty I suppose.
On 53 we had taken the lead once more after a swift counter attack. Oxlade-Chamberlain's low cross found Alexis in the box to smash in from close range.
Alexis achieved more from a statistical point of view with a goal and an assist in 53 minutes than Theo Walcott has managed for weeks. That is not meant as a dig at Walcott necessarily but to point out just how much we have missed a player of Alexis Sanchez quality. He is going to be very important from now until the end of the season so lets hope we get to see the best of Alexis from now on.
As expected we took Francis Coquelin off along with Iwobi for the experienced Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky respectively. I am a fully paid up member of the Rosicky fan club so I was more than happy to see him buzzing around the pitch once more. We have had very little from the bench in recent weeks in terms of attacking players so it will give us a big boost going forward having these options.
Alexis departed soon after for Theo Walcott and Walcott could have added a third in stoppage time, racing through onto Chamberlain's pass but the Burnley goalie blocked his attempt to round the keeper. I don't think the decision was necessarily a bad one, it was just his execution. Perhaps going outside on his right would have been the better choice. It was only recently I bemoaned Giroud's decision to shoot at Butland against Stoke than round him so it would be hypocritical for me to complain this time.
So 2-1 it finished and we progress to the next round of the FA Cup.
We have given some players who are in need of games some valuable minutes and also given some players who were in desperate need for rest, a chance to rest tired legs.
I think that is what you call a good afternoons work.