Arsenal’s German contingent shine against Coventry

Posted by James McNicholas


Arsenal are through to the FA Cup fifth round after a relatively routine 4-0 win over Coventry City.

Given their sobering experiences last season, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal were never likely to take Coventry lightly. In 2012-13, the Gunners were knocked out of both domestic cup competitions by lower league opposition. Consequently, Wenger chose not to take too many risks with his starting lineup. In the absence of the injured Thomas Vermaelen, the Frenchman named his first-choice centre-back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. When that duo play, Arsenal invariably have a solid foundation.

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Mertesacker captained the team, which seemed fitting considering the lineup's distinctly German feel. Mertesacker was joined in the starting lineup by three compatriots: Serge Gnabry, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski. Another -- teenage prodigy Gideon Zelalem -- began on the bench.

Unsurprisingly, it was a Teutonic twosome who combined for Arsenal's opening goal. After the Gunners won the ball back in midfield, Ozil showed superb awareness to slide a perfect pass into the path of the onrushing Podolski. Podolski is usually an explosive finisher, but on this occasion, he calmly skipped beyond the goalkeeper and slotted into an unguarded net.

Within 12 minutes, he had doubled his tally. Again, it was a goal made almost entirely in Germany. A Gnabry corner was flicked on at the near post by Mertesacker, and Podolski arrived to nod the ball beyond a stranded keeper. On the sidelines, assistant manager Steve Bould grinned in approval: This was reminiscent of the classic Arsenal set pieces of the '80s and '90s.

Podolski will have been delighted to have made such a significant impact. This was only his second start since August. However, the German now has more goals than starts in 2013-14. With Theo Walcott out for the rest of the season, his ruthlessness in front of goal could prove invaluable.

The second goal effectively killed the tie, and the first half petered out somewhat. The highlights were arguably a passionate Coventry protest against their enforced relocation to Northampton and a floodlight failure, which led to the Arsenal fans lighting up the Emirates Stadium with a constellation of mobile phone screens.

At half-time, it seemed merely a question of how many Arsenal would get. Prior to the game, Arsenal hadn’t won a match by more than three goals this season. This surely seemed like the ideal time for the Gunners to show they could rack up the goals in a similar fashion to title rivals Manchester City.

However, Coventry had other ideas. Their second-half performance was more confident, more aggressive and more effective. Without both Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta, Arsenal were vulnerable to Coventry’s impressive attacking play. Fortunately for the Gunners, Steven Pressley’s team squandered a number of presentable opportunities.

With 20 minutes to go, Zelalem was handed the chance to make his Arsenal debut. In doing so, he became the first player born during the reign of Wenger to represent the club. It's quite the testament to Wenger's longevity.

Zelalem didn't see too much of the ball against Coventry, but it is apt that he should be the player whose debut should signify that landmark. Zelalem is an archetypal Wenger footballer, with glorious vision and impeccable passing. Wenger commented after the game that the teenager had shown he is "not scared" of the challenge of senior football.

However, it was two other subs who put the sheen on the scoreline, as Arsenal eventually passed Coventry into submission. First, Olivier Giroud thumped home at the near post after a neat cutback from Kieran Gibbs. Then, in the dying moments, Santi Cazorla volleyed home after a Carl Jenkinson cross had been parried.

The scoreline was a little harsh the midlands side, but Arsenal had played with stereotypically German efficiency. At one stage this evening, Arsenal had five Germans on the field. On the very same night, Bayern Munich finished their game against Borussia Monchengladbach with just four. With growing rumours of a move for Schalke's Julian Draxler, Arsenal's German revolution shows no signs of slowing.

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