Pre match, all the focus on team selection seemed to surround Sunderland and Sam Allardyce, with the fat walrus moaning to whoever would listen about the fixtures list. He made it clear early on that he would play a complete bunch of youngsters.
Throughout the build up, Arsenal seemed to be forgotten about. With a mid-week game away to Liverpool coming up, it had not really been discussed what changes Arsene Wenger would make.
On Twitter, the common consensus was that there would be whole sale changes, with everyone agreeing that we should rest the entire XI that would be likely to start against Liverpool. With Sunderland set to play the kids, Arsenal could surely afford to do so as well.
What happened with the team sheets came out was fairly surprising. Allaradyce had attempted to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes with his team selection.
Whilst it was by no means the strongest XI, and with a debutante in goal in the shape of 21 year old keeper Jordan Pickford, the outfield players were certainly not the kids that were threatened to be put out.
Regular starters John O’Shea, Patrick van Aanholt, Sebastian Coates, Jermain Lens, Steven Fletcher, Duncan Watmore and Lee Catermole all started. Only Billy Jones and Jermaine Defoe were missing from the regulars who had started most of this season.
Unlike most of Twitter, Arsene Wenger ignored what was coming out of the walruses mouth. He could have fallen into the trap and started the likes of Glen Kamara, Jeff & others. Instead, it was a strong line up with only one kid in the starting 11 – the impressive Alex Iwobi. Take him out (for maybe Aaron Ramsey) and it was a starting XI that you could see starting games in the Premier League.
Ever present Nacho Monreal was rested for Kieran Gibbs, and Mesut Ozil was given the rest everyone knew he would get, and needed. It was a side Wenger picked to win the game, no matter the players put out by Fat Sam. It was a strong side.
And it was the strength of the side, showing that Wenger does take the competition seriously – that saw us through. Despite going 1-0 down, and having a shaky moment when Steven Fletcher hit the bar when he really should have scored, Arsenal were never in trouble of going out,. It was a professional performance that you would expect from the quality of players put out by Wenger.
There were some outstanding performances that do deserve a mention.
Hector Bellerin, who could have been rested for Debuchy, showed once more that he is quickly becoming not just one of the best right backs in the Premier League, but one of the best in Europe. An international call up is surely on the horizon. A place in Spain’s Euro 2016 squad an outside bet.
He showed once again he is growing defensively, but it was his attacking that court the eye. Getting forward at every opportunity, putting in quality balls, and beating his opposing full back with ease. Were he a winger, we would be crowing about this performance. The fact he was at full back makes it ever more incredible.
And the vision and weight of the pass for Olivier Giroud’s goal was exceptional. Ozil-esque even. An ordinary player would have just smashed an aimless ball hard across the box, leaving the striker no chance to get on the end of it. Bellerin picked out Giroud with tremendous ease. And it actually makes you forget about his pass to Ramsey for the second. Again, a cool, calm pass where a lesser player would have smashed it.
It was also an impressive performance once more for Joel Campbell. His hunger and desire was there for all too see. He is still proving a lot of people, including myself, wrong. He is becoming an important squad player, growing with every game.
Where as in the summer we were looking to offload the Costa Rican, we must now be hoping that he signs a new contract, with his current one reportedly expiring at the end of this season. It would be interesting to see if he does get a new 4/5 year deal, if his hunger and desire remain, or once his future is secure, does he, like many others before, loose focus.
Calum Chambers also looked good in the holding midfield position. And both Iwobi and Jeff looked classy, showing that a Premier League loan deal till the end of the season might be beneficial for both’s future.
Overall, it was a solid performance by a solid side. Wenger got his team selection right, and we are into the hat for the 4th round draw.
The Double is still on.