Arsenal 2 Burnley 1
Visions of the past and glimpses into the future were on show at the Emirates on Saturday, as Arsenal’s FA Cup victory over Burnley evoked memories of a bygone age.
It may be hard now to think of the Clarets as a powerhouse of English football, but they were founder members of the Football League and had won that competition and the FA Cup long before Arsenal.
When teams from Lancashire dominated English football in the late 19th Century, Burnley’s great rivals Blackburn Rovers won the FA Cup three times in succession, a feat considered impossible until now, with Arsenal only four victories away from an unlikely hat-trick.
Arsene Wenger is quick to play down such a possibility, though.
“We are only two rounds in,” he said after a hard-fought 2-1 win over Burnley.
And it is clear he has other priorities, with the Premier League title within Arsenal’s grasp and the toughest Champions League tie of all, against Barcelona to come later this month.
So he was all smiles on Saturday after a victory that eased his side into the fifth round while also increasing his options for the immediate future.
Alexis Sanchez was the biggest name to return, marking his first start after a two-month injury absence with a goal and an assist.
“He’s had a good winter break,” Wenger said with a grin, acknowledging the fatigue that was affecting Sanchez before his injury in late November.
Francis Coquelin was injured at the same time and was expected to be out until March, but returned ahead of schedule in a midfield that contained Mohamed Elneny, the Egyptian midfielder, making a solid debut after being signed from FC Basel.
Even Tomas Rosicky played his first game of the season, as substitute, though was reported afterwards to have suffered a thigh injury.
Most intriguingly there was another chance to see Alex Iwobi, the nephew of Nigerian legend Jay Jay Okocha, playing in a number 10 role.
Wenger believes the teenager has immense promise, but could have been missed if he had not personally overseen his development at the club’s academy.
“Personally I like his game,” added Wenger.
“I think he has shown everybody that he is a good football player, again.
“His decision-making is spot on. His awareness is very interesting. He’s a boy who two years ago not many would have said, ‘this will be a good player’.
“But he has developed very well. He’s very clever. I like his game.
“He always turns where you want him to turn, and he plays the ball where you want him to play the ball. He’s very interesting.
”Unlike Serge Gnabry, who has been recalled after a barren loan spell at West Bromwich, Iwobi will not go on loan.
“I have a hesitation about it because I think this guy could very quickly play. He can play on the left, he can play on the right, he can play behind the striker, even number nine. He scores goals in training.
“It’s the first season he trains with the first team. I think for one season it would help him a lot to see the quality of the players around him.”
Wenger has urged Roy Hodgson to call up the teenager, who has already played a senior friendly for Nigeria.
“He’s one you can miss because he plays for Nigeria now. He should play for England. I don’t think he has played in a competitive game.
“I remember I turned him down for an U23 friendly tournament.
“Then they called him up for the first team to force him to go.”
Iwobi was involved in the move that allowed Calum Chambers to score the opening goal with a 20-yarder, and after Sam Vokes headed an equaliser for the Championship side, was at the heart of a flowing move that led to Sanchez’s winner.
Arsenal are now chasing an unlikely treble, and Wenger says they have a chance.
“If we can keep everybody fit we can do it. Today I rested players like Monreal, Bellerin, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, and Mertesacker. If we can keep everybody fit we have a chance to compete.
“They will play as well, Barcelona.”
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Ospina 6; Chambers 7, Gabriel 6, Koscielny 6, Gibbs 6; Coquelin 6, Elneny 7; Oxlade-Chamberlain 7, Iwobi 7, Sanchez 9; Giroud 5 Subs: Arteta for Iwobi 71; Rosicky for Coquelin 71; Walcott for Sanchez 77.
Subs not used Cech, Bellerin, Monreal, Campbell
BURNLEY (4-4-2): Heaton 8; Darikwa 6, Keane 6, Mee 6, Ward 5; Boyd 7, Ulvestad 6, Jones 6, Arfield 6; Gray 6, Vokes 7.
Subs: Barton for Jones 66; Hennings for Vokes 75; Kightly for Boyd 80.
Subs not used: Robinson, Lowton, Duff, Taylor
Referee: Roger East.
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