The Arsenal first-team must be an attractive place to be. Those players on the fringe of it were given the chance last night and, to a man, asserted their cases to be picked more often.
Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin had started one game between them this season before yesterday, but they were both – in their rather different styles – relentless as Arsenal cut Coventry City into small pieces to beat them 6-1.
A place in the Capital One Cup fourth round, in which Arsenal will travel to Reading, will please Arsene Wenger. But the real delights were the performances of those pushed out by the early season form of Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Gervinho.
Walcott, the reluctant rebel, did not get his chance to start up front but was still lethal from the wing. After a patchy first-half, which only ended 1-0, his pace was too much for tired Coventry legs in the final stages. He made it 4-0, racing onto Nico Yennaris’ through pass and finishing into his favoured bottom corner. The final goal was Walcott’s too, taking the ball on the half-way line, looping towards goal and clipping the ball into the opposite side of the net.
“He is a great finisher now,” Wenger enthused afterwards. “In front of goal he is really absolutely amazing.” Walcott will not get his chance of playing up front quite yet, “his time will come for that”, but Wenger was relaxed about the 23-year-old’s future.
“We are all professional,” Wenger said, “I always said let’s hope we can sign him and extend his contract. You have to give us time.”
Arshavin’s future at Arsenal was even more fragile than Walcott’s, after a loan spell back at Zenit St Petersburg last year. It was his first Arsenal start since January but he was excellent, drifting into space behind Olivier Giroud and picking passes no-one else could see. Arshavin helped to set up the first goal, passing to Coquelin who found Giroud just before half-time.
The Russian forward won a penalty at the start of the second half, passed to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to thump in the second goa, scored the third,l and crossed to Ignasi Miquel to head in the fifth.
He might not be quite as good as Cazorla but Wenger was thrilled to have another option there. “His best position looks to be behind the striker now because that’s where his vision, his creative side of game can be very efficient,” the mananger said. “When he is central he is always an influence.”
Giroud, too, enjoyed a season-starting performance. His delicate chip over Joe Murphy ended a frustrating first-half. He could have had a second after the interval but made the direction of his penalty kick too obvious. His chip across to Arshavin for the third, though, was the work of a talented forward.
“He is a good finisher, Olivier,” Wenger said. “At the moment he is looking for confidence again and that goal will help him.”
As ever in the League Cup, Wenger tested out some of youngsters, to see if the latest batch from the laboratory is up to the challenge of the first team. 21-year-old Francis Coquelin and 19-year-old Nico Yennaris were tidy in midfield while Emi Martinez and Martin Angha made competent first starts. Oxlade-Chamberlain has rather moved beyond them but is still only 19 and took his goal well. Wenger brought 17-year-old Serge Gnabry on with 18 minutes left along with the returning Emmanuel Frimpong.
When Arsenal were re-settling after their changes Coventry scored their goal. A brisk break released Carl Barker down the right, and he produced the cross of the evening, onto which Callum Ball pounced and scored.
Mark Robins, the new Coventry manager, was disappointed with the result but not without pride in his players. “We created a number of chances but ran out of legs, which is something we have to work on,” he said. “We tired terribly and need to address that. But the pleasing thing is the way we passed the ball until the end of the game.”
Arsenal (4-2-3-1) Martinez; Angha, Djourou, Miquel, Santos; Yennaris, Coquelin (Frimpong, 72); Walcott, Arshavin, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Gnabry, 72); Giroud (Chamakh, 72)
Unused substitutes: Squillaci, Bellerin, Eisfeld, Shea
Coventry City (4-4-1-1) Murphy; Clarke, Brown, Wood, Reckord; Baker, Bailey, Barton, Moussa (Fleck, 60); McSheffrey; Elliot (Ball, 70)
Unused substitutes: Hussey, McDonald, Dunn, Edjenguele, Daniels
Man of the Match: Arshavin
Match rating: 7