FA Cup holders Arsenal narrowly progressed through to this year’s final of the competition, and are set to face giant-killers Aston Villa on May 30th after a 2-1 victory over Reading on Saturday evening. Steve Clarke‘s men had nothing to lose, and gave it all they had, but in the end, were unlucky not to prevail courtesy of a brace from Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez, cancelling out an second-half equaliser from Garath McCleary.
1. Should Bellerín have started over the returning Debuchy?
When the team line-ups were initially announced ahead of kick-off on Saturday, I must admit that was surprised. Not because Danny Welbeck was preferred to Olivier Giroud in a central striking role, no, but because Mathieu Debuchy, recently returning from a long-term injury lay-off, replaced Hector Bellerín in the starting line-up. The 20-year-old Spaniard has asserted his role in the team over the past few months of the season with a number of consistent displays, so it was a real surprise that the experienced Frenchman was brought back into the fray, in a game of such magnitude, without having much first-team action elsewhere in the past few weeks to prove he was ready.
Debuchy’s performance overall was solid, although it was evident as the game continued, he looked slightly lethargic and he was reluctant to get forward much. This can be viewed as both an advantage as well as a disadvantage, because on the counter attack, Arsenal need men forward, but also require a few players to stay back in-case they lose possession. Bellerín’s energy would have been beneficial all-round as he knows how to get himself into good attacking positions with relative ease given his blistering pace, as well as knowing how to defend.
2. Lack of clinical edge almost cost the Gunners
I’m almost certain, with no intended disrespect to Reading, if Arsenal were playing against a world-class club on Saturday, they probably would have lost over the 90 minute spell. Not because they were not good enough, which they weren’t, but because they failed to take their chances. Wenger’s men started slowly, and Reading did well to assert themselves in the early going. Apart from an early headed effort from Mertesacker, Arsenal did not offer much attacking threat up until Alexis’ opener. Reading had a few clear-cut opportunities to split the Premier League side apart, but for one reason or another, failed to take them.
3. Walcott deserves more minutes to prove his match sharpness
With the scores level at 1-1 with 35 minutes left to play, Arsenal were in desperate need of a pace injection to see them through. Walcott, sat patiently waiting for his chance amongst the substitutes. The clock ticked and continued to do so, and it was only until halfway through extra time where the English forward eventually got his chance to spring the Gunners ahead.
Many rumours have been circulating in recent weeks about the pacey winger’s future, and it is no secret that he is disgruntled with his lack of first-team minutes. He was introduced in place of Francis Coquelin, and looked threatening a few times, especially where he won a free-kick an inch or two away from the penalty-area to give the Gunners breathing space with time running out, after Sanchez scored his second.
If Theo is to stay at Arsenal, and frankly improve as a player, Wenger needs to put his faith in him. I totally understand why the experienced Frenchman would be reluctant to push Walcott back into the fray after having a few long-term injuries, but he deserves more minutes to show he is still an important player in this Arsenal team, not just a ‘sub’ or a back-up to the likes of Welbeck and Giroud, if they get injured for example.
4. Adam Federici kept Reading in the game, but ironically was the man to seal their exit
The headlines will of course be focussed on the “howler” that saw his side cruelly knocked out of the FA Cup, but 30-year-old Australian Adam Federici had an impressive game up until that point, and should be proud of his performance, which kept his side in the tie on a number of different occasions. He made a few important saves, including one to deny Gabriel’s powerful header with a hand parrying the headed effort off the crossbar and out to safety.
Unfortunately, the goalkeeping position is one where even the slightest of mistakes will end up in harsh scrutiny. Just ask Wojciech Szczesny, who the media and fans alike have combined to state McCleary’s effort was his fault, and a shot he should really have been saving.
5. Alexis Sánchez: one of Arséne’s best signings
Even when he doesn’t score, Alexis offers so much to the team. His energy, work-rate, electric pace, close-control dribbling, and impressive finishing ability are all qualities for Arsenal supporters to savour as they watch the Chilean play on a weekly basis. He’s scored 22 goals in all competitions, which is quite a feat for someone in his debut season in the country, and he completed a clinical brace to seal the Gunners place in the Wembley final next month.
Arséne Wenger has signed quite a few gems in his tenure as Arsenal boss, and Alexis is another one to add to the coveted list. Not only is he technically gifted, but his positive attitude towards football in general and his work-ethic spurs his team-mates on to up the intensity of their individual game, which is a quality not many possess.
The more I watch him, the more I wonder, how on earth Arsenal managed to sign him for only £30million pounds?! In this day and age, with the inflated transfer market as it is, the 26-year-old has already proven himself as a steal from La Liga giants Barcelona, and a real coup that shows a signal of intent to the rest of Europe in terms of Arsenal’s aspirations for the future.