The importance of Arsenal’s win against Liverpool on Sunday in the FA Cup is more than just about advancing in a cup competition. The club needed a response from what has been a difficult week in a particularly difficult run of games, gearing towards what is sure to be a pivotal stretch of games next month.
It was important that Arsenal showed they can bounce back, but also against the team who took them apart with such ease the weekend earlier. But while Arsenal should be in a better frame of mind than they were for a match last Wednesday – coupled with luck, this was another fine defensive display from Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny – Arsene Wenger will be encouraged by the form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the performance of Yaya Sanogo, who made his full debut for the club.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s contribution in front of goal of late has been one to ease the pain of having lost Theo Walcott for the rest of the campaign. The youngster, operating in a number of roles in recent weeks, scored a brace against Crystal Palace and showed that he is capable of offering the same against far better opposition in Liverpool. His composure for the finish on Sunday was pleasing, showing that Arsenal do have another option who is able to take the chances he’s given. And, of course, he was the one to lay on the assist for Lukas Podolski.
But what was especially pleasing was his work on the flank. So much was said about the loss of pace with Walcott now out and whether the duo of Serge Gnabry and Oxlade-Chamberlain could suitably replace. The latter was talked up a lot, naturally because of his experience over the German, but Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace isn’t a match to Walcott’s.
Nevertheless, he gave Arsenal the direct cutting edge in the final third they’ve been crying out for. Oxlade-Chamberlain got at the Liverpool defence in a way few others in this Arsenal team can. His pace isn’t a match for Walcott’s, but it’s still an invaluable weapon and one Arsenal as a collective need to use to optimum effect.
But the big surprise was what Yaya Sanogo offered throughout his time on the pitch, a surprise inclusion ahead of the far more experienced Nicklas Bendtner.
Say it quietly, but Sanogo brought back memories of the powerful, nuisance of a centre-forward Emmanuel Adebayor was at Arsenal. The young striker is quick, has plenty of strength to match the best in the Premier League, and noticeably wound up and troubled Liverpool’s defensive pair in Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger.
It’s something Arsenal have lacked this season in Olivier Giroud. The former Montpellier striker has taken on a lot of responsibility this season, but Sanogo, alongside Oxlade-Chamberlain, was direct and much more of a threat than Giroud has been since the turn of the year.
Arsene Wenger will do all he can to ensure Sanogo’s performance – which while raw was a big take away from the game – isn’t blown up and morphed into unrealistic expectations. After all, the last thing a player of such limited experience needs is to be burdened with the pressure of guiding Arsenal to silverware this season.
But what he can be is a help. It wasn’t just lower league opposition that Sanogo performed so well against, it was the team currently sitting fourth in the Premier League. Sanogo can be a reliever for Giroud in Premier League games when there is a chance to rest Wenger’s first choice. But if confidence and performances in training are upheld, he may be a starter in one of Arsenal’s next two Premier League games or the FA Cup tie against Everton.
What is hugely important is that Sanogo, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, gave Mesut Ozil something to work with. The German had another very good game on Sunday evening, but a lot should be owed to the options he had in front of him, with players wanting to push the Liverpool defence further back and make runs towards goal, of which Giroud has offered very little of late.
It’s just one game and one start from Sanogo, but he has given Arsenal and its supporters a great deal to be encouraged about. Given the lack of investment from the club in January, supporters are more than in their right to grasp onto such performances from unlikely individuals.