January 10, 2014
There are few things that can temper the celebration of knocking Tottenham out of the FA Cup. Injury to a key player is one of them.
A north London derby was the glamour tie in the third round of the FA Cup and – to Arsenal fans at least – it was indeed glamorous. The visitors had the first scoring chance, but Arsenal responded quickly and often. Santi Cazorla gave us the lead just after the half-hour mark and Tomas Rosicky put the game out of reach in the 62nd minute after stealing the ball at the half-way line and knocking it past Hugo Lloris.
But with nine minutes remaining, a nasty looking knee injury to Theo Walcott dampened the celebrations. Not only were we feeling concern over the injury, but Arsène Wenger had already made his three substitutions, so we had to see out the game with 10 men.
It has to be said, however, that Theo was stretchered off in style. With coins and other projectiles raining down on him from the away fans, he simply smiled and reminded them what the score was. Legend.
So the closing minutes were a little stressy, but we held on and Lukasz Fabianksi picked up the clean sheet.
There was more to the game than the win and the injury. Eighteen-year-old Serge Gnabry set up Cazorla's opener and put on a wonderful display and showed why he is so highly rated by the Club. After the game Wenger gave him praise, but also tried to reel in the expectations some. "I am a strong believer in Serge, because I integrated him at the start of last season," he said. "But let’s not make superstars with one game. The top level is [about] consistency but I believe the ingredients are there."
Mikel Arteta also lauded the German's performance saying, "He's got something not many players have in this team, which is pace and skill to go and beat people." He then added, "He's got a lot of character as well, the lad doesn't get intimidated either because it's a derby."
To make his performance even more pleasing to Arsenal fans, Gnabry kept his humility. "I'm just grateful that I've heard I put in a good performance," he told the Matchday Show. "I think that as well I've done, I can always do better."
And he may have to now. On Monday, we found out that the nasty looking injury Theo suffered was in fact nasty. He ruptured his ACL and is set to miss the rest of the season – and the World Cup. It's heartbreaking as Theo was coming into form, proven by his wresting Player of the Month honors away from Aaron Ramsey and winning the monthly award for best goal as well.
The immediate question of course is how will we replace him in the squad? Before the severity of Theo's injury was confirmed, Wenger hinted that solutions could be found within the squad. “We have a bigger squad than people expect,” he said. “Especially when you see people like Gnabry - we had Gibbs and Ramsey out - [it shows] we have plenty of players who can compete for a place in the team."
But a few days later, his tune changed… a bit. “[Walcott’s injury] has accelerated speculation first and of course my desire as well - but let's not forget about Serge Gnabry who can play in the first team," he said.
The boss also mentioned the impending return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has been out of action since the opening day loss to Aston Villa. While Wenger says that they are two different types of players, Carl Jenkinson insists that the Ox will have a big impact. "He's a fantastic player who brings an awful lot to the team. To have him back in and around the group is a boost for everyone - he's only young but he's a key member of the squad."
While we shouldn’t set the bar too high for a player who has been out for so long, Chamberlain did put in an impressive 45-minute shift against Fulham for the U-21s on Thursday. Regarding his performance, the 20-year-old said, "Obviously I wasn’t at my full fitness here and it was quite hard, but the main thing was that I got through it and that is a positive. It is just really good to be back."
And coincidentally, the next team we face is the last team he faced: Aston Villa. The players still have a couple more days of rest ahead of them, and the team news is looking decent so far. Wenger says that Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs both have a chance to be in the squad and both Giroud and Mesut Ozil could be set to return to the starting XI. The nine-day break really could not have come at a better time.
With no Champions League games until mid-February, Arsenal only have to focus on the Premier League and FA Cup for the next month. The draw for the fourth round took place on Sunday, and Arsenal were rewarded with a home game against League One side Coventry. Oddly enough, the game is scheduled for a Friday night – January 24.
But first it's Villa on Monday. The Villans have had a decidedly mixed season. They have beaten both us and Manchester City this season, but also were just knocked out of the FA Cup by Sheffield United. In fact, their run of form has been pretty poor of late with just three league wins since the beginning of October. But you can be certain this is not a team that Arsenal will take lightly.
Kick-off is at 3pm ET and the game will be aired on NBCSN in the USA and Sportsnet World in Canada. Hopefully we'll be able to exorcise the demons from opening day.
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