The Gunners started brightly against the Clarets, in the crisp winter sunshine on Saturday.
With Coquelin retrieving possession so much higher up the park, instead of allowing opponents freedom to bear down upon and discombobulate our defence, and with Alexis restoring some much needed zip to our play, the long-awaited return of some pleasing on the eye, fast, free-flowing footie made it apparent how much these two players have been missed, during their enforced absence.
When Alexis eventually dissected the massed ranks of Burnley’s defence, following a period of the sort of patient probing that’s all too often resulted in a frustrating lack of end product in recent weeks, I had the good fortune to be blessed with the perfect view, as Calum Chambers exquisitely caressed the ball goalwards.
Chambers was wheeling away towards the corner flag to celebrate, before the ball even found its target, as he and I knew, with certainty that he couldn’t have got the physics more precise if he’d sat down and calculated the trajectory with a slide rule.
Unfortunately, as the sun sunk behind the Clock End, the temperature on the terraces and the isotherms of this encounter both dipped dramatically.
In the more tepid remainder of this match there was little evidence of the sort of cup “blood and thunder” that sadly only seems to exist nowadays in the imagination of the tabloid hacks.
Time was when the likes of Burnley would’ve been far too embarrassed to dare show their faces back at Turf Moor, after exiting the competition by way of a display in which a solitary booking was hardly testament to the Clarets getting “stuck in”.
With it being so long since we last lost in this competition, I suppose it’s inevitable that we’ve become irritatingly blasé, but I must admit to feeling a little envious,upon seeing evidence of far more FA Cup fervour at success-starved grounds like Fratton Park, when watching highlights on the box later that night.
My disappointment at Reine-Adelaide’s absence from the teamsheet was tempered by a first glimpse of our new Egyptian midfielder in the starting XI.
As one expects of a Wenger signing, Elneny appears very comfortable in possession.
Mercifully, with him not being another midfield midget, he might well prove a useful addition, depending on how quickly he adapts to the unrelenting intensity of the Premier League.
With Giroud, Alexis, Iwobi, and the Ox all included in a positive looking line-up, I was hoping the Gunners would go on to bang in the few goals that might boost our confidence.
Yet after Vokes caught us napping, heading the Championship side back on terms on the half-hour mark, we seemed to sit back and wait, in expectation that Burnley would eventually roll over.
Thankfully we managed to conjure up the beautiful box-to-box move that resulted in Alexis scoring what eventually proved to be the winner, but there remained the unnerving risk of us conceding again and being left faced with a long trek North, at a time when we can least afford the dreaded prospect of a replay impinging on an already crowded fixture schedule.
Watching us make such a meal of keeping an in-form, but comparatively agricultural, Burnley at bay during the second half, I found myself contemplating the positively terrifying prospect of us having to contain the likes of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar in only a couple of weeks time.
Walcott really should have sealed our progress with a third when he appeared late-on, but in fluffing his lines, Theo only managed to reinforce our lack of faith in him as a viable alternative to Giroud.
Nevertheless, unless Arsene’s got a surprise up his sleeve, it’s looking increasingly likely that we might be left another man down come transfer deadline day, with the exit of Debuchy.
With Rosicky’s long-awaited 20-minute cameo only resulting in another depressing injury, it’s not as if the shelves at London Colney are looking particularly well-stocked with fresh produce for an assault on all three fronts.
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