Arsenal traded pessimism for optimism this evening, as Arsène Wenger’s latest batch of youngsters battled back from the brink to defeat Shrewsbury Town in the third round of the Carling Cup.
Wenger made eleven changes from the side that lost 4-3 to Blackburn Rovers over the weekend, bringing in a mixture of fringe first-teamers and promising hopefuls. It was a combination that looked fluid, creative and dangerous in the opening stages, but as the Shrews found their feet, the Gunners’ Achilles heel came back to haunt them.
James Collins took advantage of poor positional play from Johan Djourou, Łukasz Fabiański’s failure to read or command the situation, and naivity from Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel to head home from close range. The fans showed their instant displeasure, with a section booing. It would be enough to unsettle any player, but two of the youngest players on the pitch began the revival.
He’d teased and tormented throughout the half, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped his game up following Collins’ goal, and after being involved in the move that led to Kieran Gibbs’ header for 1-1, the £7 million summer acquisition showed almost zero back lift when smashing Frimpong’s pass into the net from all of 25-yards. It was a goal his performance deserved.
Yet while Oxlade-Chamberlain had put the Gunners into a then deserved the lead, the contribution of the mobile and efficient Francis Coquelin helped them stay there. The Frenchman is currently behind Emmanuel Frimpong in the pecking order, but based on this performance, he won’t be long.
Coquelin embodies the type of qualities Arsenal fans miss. Passion, hunger, energy, urgency, and a desire to throw himself on the line for the team. He misplaced a few passes, and was lucky to escape without a card, but his box-to-box bursts and brilliant timing of tackles helped inspire.
Other notable mentions go to Ignasi Miquel, who was rather untroubled and, while his positional sense and physique needs lots of work, he showed good composure on and off the ball, and sprayed several very good balls out from the back. Oğuzhan Özyakup came off the bench and played in Yossi Benayoun for him to score a much deserved third, and the Dutchman is increasingly becoming a player that excites Wenger and his staff.
It’s easy to get carried away by the victory, but what these latest batch of Carling Cup youngsters have that others haven’t over the years, is maturity, attitude and talent that can be of use right now, not just for the future.
They might just be first-team hopefuls at present, but this performance will no doubt give Wenger food for thought.