Arsenal maintained their enviable record of not having exited the FA Cup at the 3rd Round stage during Arsene Wenger’s tenure by producing two late goals to beat West Ham 2-1 at Upton Park yesterday.
The Gunners found it hard to hit their stride against an industrious Hammers team. When the home team took the lead in first half injury time, it was hard-earned even if not necessarily deserved. The scrappy nature of the game continued until the last fifteen minutes when, following the introduction of Nasri and Diaby, Arsenal found some quality just as West Ham ran out of steam. Smart finishes from Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo, saw the one-goal deficit overturned and Arsenal safely into the 4th round where they will face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
It has been a good week for Aaron Ramsey. Whilst Cesc Fabregas has been recovering from his hamstring injury, the young Welshman has been making his presence felt on the first team scene by netting at Portsmouth in the Premier League last Wednesday night and again at West Ham yesterday. He is a player who has shown a good degree of development this season. After spending the summer with a personal trainer who palpably built up his physical stature, he looks far more capable of holding his own in football’s top flight.
His sporadic appearances earlier in the year showed flashes of potential but, generally, he seemed to be more a conservative continuity player – preferring to knock short-range square passes rather than killer defence-splitting balls. Recently though, his performances have provided evidence that he is adjusting to the level required and his goals over the last week have suggested that he is finding the confidence to not just merely play it safe but to also express the talent that Arsene Wenger presumably bought him for. He still has a long way to go before he is the finished article but Arsenal fans can been pleased with his progress.
So, whilst yesterday’s match might not have been the most beautiful spectacle it was heartening that, even in the absence of so many injured players, those selected showed the requisite amount of spirit and application to get the job – in much the same way as the convincing victory at Portsmouth in the Premier League was achieved last week too.
The Gunners make their return to Premier League action on Wednesday night when Bolton Wanderers visit Ashburton Grove to clear up the game in hand that both teams had due to Arsenal’s appearance in the Champions League qualifying round back in August. It is a game that is already being hyped up by the media as victory would put Arsene Wenger’s side within touching distance of the top of the table but, whilst a win would be a huge morale boost, the title will not be settled by the outcome of this match.
What sort of Bolton team turns up in North London on Wednesday night remains to be seen. Having sacked Gary Megson last week and, at time of writing, with rumours of Owen Coyle taking up the reins, Wanderers are a club in disarray at the moment. Ideally, there will a sneaking feeling amongst their ranks that a trip to Arsenal under current circumstances can be treated as a write-off. The Gunners cannot afford to be complacent though. Mangerless teams can pose a threat depending on how they react to the removal of their boss. Some lose their way entirely whilst others find themselves freed.
What Arsenal fans will be hoping for though is that their team continue their current good run of grinding out results in the absence of key injured players. And with the sheer number of injuries the club has had to contend with in recent times, this is a good habit to have cultivated. May it continue on Wednesday night.