Year of the Ox

Arsenal: Fabianski – Jenkinson – Miquel – Djourou (C) – Gibbs – Oxlade-Chamberlain (Aneke – 90) Coquelin – Frimpong (Ozyakup) – Benayoun – Park (Ryo – 72) – Chamakh

Goals: Gibbs – 33. Oxlade-Chamberlain – 58. Benayoun – 79.

Shrewsbury Town: Smith – Grandison – Jacobson – McAllister (Richards – 72) – Goldson – Wright – Hazell (C) – Wroe – Ainsworth (Taylor – 78) – Collins (Bradshaw – 72) – Morgan.

Goal: Collins – 16

Well there were a couple of collectors items on show at the Emirates last night – Two English goalscorers for the Arsenal for the first time since Sol Campbell & Franny Jeffers scored in the FA Cup victory over Farnborough Town in 2003 and there was a goal scored by an Arsenal player from outside the box, I’ve no idea when we last saw that? Denilson at Goodison Park on the opening day of the 09/10 season?

The first half of this third round Carling Cup tie wasn’t pretty, but I think it’s worth remembering that Shrews keeper Ben Smith pulled off two top quality saves from Marouane Chamakh within the first ten minutes. Had either of those early chances gone in the complexion of the game could have been different but as it was the League Two side made the gulf in league status look miniscule.

While Graham Turners side grew in stature and began to sense an upset may have been on the cards, our players, a decent mix of youth and experience, started to mimic our first choice XI perfectly. The Shrews were knocking it about comfortably and we just couldn’t get a foot hold in the game, allowing our opponents plenty of space which they made the most of. Mark Wright had a shot which Lukas Fabianski seemingly choose to completely ignore as if there was no ball in play and Marvin Morgan had a shot blocked by Kieran Gibbs who was doing his best Gael Clichy impression, pushing high up the pitch and leaving gaping holes on the left side of our half. Buoyed by their early efforts Shrewsbury took the lead after seventeen minutes.

I mentioned Marvin Morgan as the  Shrewsbury danger man yesterday and it was indeed the big forward who whipped a lovely ball in from the right flank, captain for the night Johan Djourou made no attempt to win the ball in the air and James Collins was on hand to head it past Fabianski. I’ve no idea what has happened to Djourou, I can only imagine he has been spending far too much time with Manuel Almunia because the Swiss centre half has seemingly caught the Spaniards penchant for indecision and an indifference to perform even the most basic of tasks expected from him.

I’ve always been a fan of Djourou’s and whilst he has suffered from those mind farts on occasion during his Arsenal career it now seems his brain has completely shat itself.

Shrewsbury seemingly had us on the ropes and pushed on for a second goal which they were unfortunate not to get especially when Fabianski, seemingly inspired by Djourou, stood idly by as McAllister’s effort dribbled along the ground and towards goal. Either the Polish keeper had a vision of the future or was just incredibly lucky not to concede a second as the ball went just inches wide of the far post.

Somehow we rode our luck and got ourselves back into the game as the clock ticked towards half time. Shortly after the half hour mark. Carl Jenkinson, who suffered football mutilation at Old Trafford a few weeks back, crossed in a lovely ball from the right which pinged off Chamakh and onto the head of the unmarked Kieran Gibbs who directed the ball inside the post and past Smith to put us back on level terms.

It was somewhat a relief that half time came, but mainly that was from a personal perspective because I had two pints of cider inside me looking for an exit. As the ref blew to signal the end of the half I made the dash to the gents and there was another of those collectors items, I was in there alone and when I came out there was no snaking queue.

The second half was far more enjoyable and the difference in class began to show. I had spent most of yesterday looking forward to seeing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain make his full debut and in the second half his quality really began to shine through. In tandem with Franny Coquelin, who I thought was outstanding and is maybe starting to edge his nose in front of Frimmers in the pecking order, the former Southampton youngster began to torment the opposition and excite the home crowd in equal measure.

Frimpong, himself an obvious crowd pleaser, encouraged by the fans to shoot whenever he had the ball at his feet did just that but Smith was equal to it. I’m not sure if the players had been told to test the keeper from distance or if they were just taking a punt but AOC soon joined in. His shot from twenty-five yards out sneaked underneath Smith into the back of the net and put us in front for the first time in the match. The Ox had the bit between his teeth now and was suddenly everywhere looking for the ball and trying to do something with it. In fact he had another decent effort on goal but this time Smith got his gloves to it. AOC certainly deserved the standing ovation he was given when he was replaced by Chuks Aneke late on, it was a fantastic home debut and hopefully has gone some way in proving that Wner was right to spend big in order to secure the midfielders signature.

By now Arsenal were well and truly in the driving seat but whilst Shrewsbury began to tire they certainly didn’t show any less commitment.

With just over ten minutes of the game remaining Yossi Benayoun bagged his first Arsenal goal, although for a brief moment it looked as if the Israeli had taken too long to get his shot off. Substitute Ozzy Ozyakup cut back from the by line and after what felt like an eternity (in football terms) Benny prodded the ball home to finish off the Shrews and put us into the fourth round.

Ryo got a twenty-minute run out and somewhat disappointingly he didn’t get too involved, but it certainly wasn’t for the want of trying. The Japanese winger was making some decent runs and looking to be involved and I think we were all hoping to see something spectacular from the lad. He’ll get more chances and during his brief time on the pitch did enough to make us all want to be there when he does.

As I said, Chuks Aneke also made his debut replacing the Ox with just a minute plus stoppages left on the clock and while the game had all but petered out by then the front man was everywhere on the pitch looking to get as many touches of the ball as possible which was really heartening to see. The youngster certainly is a big old unit and watching him tower over guys much older than himself I began to wonder if Wenger is attempting to put together a new breed of big powerful players?

Whilst Chuks is surely the offspring of NFL legend William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry it’s worth noting that both Frimmers & AOC are big lads for their age. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with that, could well be nothing.

Flicking on Sky Sports news when I got home last night I was appalled (but not at all surprised) to see them running with the strap line “Wenger told he won’t be sacked“. This is so far removed from the truth I wonder if it might actually be slanderous (it isn’t), Ivan Gazidas nor anyone else has given the Frenchman the so-called ‘vote of confidence’ or any thing like it. Our Chief Exec was asked if Wenger’s tenure was in danger at an event and responded that it certainly isn’t. That does not constitute Wenger being given assurances over his future, it isn’t as if Ivan said ” I called him in, we had a chat and I let him know he was safe for now but we’re keeping a close eye on things“. Knowing the power Arsene has at the club I wouldn’t be surprised if the person clearing their desk after a conversation like that was Ivan.

I’ve made my feelings about Wenger’s future beyond this season known and I stand by that but as I’ve said I will never abuse le gaffer or call for his head. He has done far too much for this club and whilst I’m not totally sure he can I certainly wouldn’t put it past him pulling something out of the bag. I just hope that both the boss and the players use this criticism as a springboard, close ranks and stick it to every doubter out there. It was fantastic when towards the end of the game last night the home supporters gave a rousing rendition of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger“.

Lastly, I just want to touch on last nights attendance. There were 46,539 inside the grove last night and for a third round league cup tie against a side who are in what is effectively the fourth division that is incredible. I posted a picture of the number of empty seats around Dave and I in the top-tier last night and there were a fair few sections like that but lets put this into context –

Arsenal v’s Shrewsbury Town – Carling Cup Third Round – 46,539

Man City V’s Napoli – UEFA Champions League* – 44,026 *This was big spending City’s first ever Champions League game an they couldn’t fill the United Stadium.

So which attendance figure is embarrassing? Which group of fans has more passion Samir?

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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