A home draw against the Ox’s former club, Southampton in the EFL Cup might seem like a just reward after seeing off Reading so comfortably in the previous round. However, let’s not forget the Gunners needed a last-minute goal from Santi Cazorla to overcome the Saints last time around. Therefore, no one can think this will be an easy match, especially as Southampton have only lost once (to Inter Milan) since the aforementioned match.
Good news to emerge from the Reading game, included a clean sheet from Martinez in goal, who looked assured throughout and a brace from Oxlade-Chamberlain, who marauded forward with confidence. Those two performances aside, I don’t think Arsenal were amazing, although Holding was also quite impressive.
The worry is if Wenger continues to use youngsters in this competition, it could mean an early exit. Against lower league opposition, you can get away with it, but against Southampton, I’d expect the likes of Maitland-Niles and Rene-Adelaide to come unstuck. On another note, I wonder if that was the first time that Arsenal fielded three players with double-barrelled names from the start.
Talking of barrels, Stan Kroenke was staring down a barrel (or barrage) of criticism before his fait accompli re-election at the club’s recent AGM. Although the American remains relatively unpopular with the fan base, surely that will change should Arsenal finish the season as Premier League champions. That statement does not seem particularly far-fetched when you bear in mind that the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain cannot yet command a first-team starting berth. Without only 18 months left on his current contract, the Ox needs to be clocking up more appearances pronto, or Arsenal will have little option but to sell him in the summer before his value on the transfer market plummets.
It’s difficult to see where the Ox fits in the current line-up, although a case could be made for him replacing Santi Cazorla should the diminutive Spaniard get injured. When you throw Aaron Ramsey into the equation as well, it’s hard to justify the Ox starting. While many Arsenal fans would prefer him to Theo Walcott on the right, I can’t make a case for it. Walcott’s a better finisher, is quicker and has the benefit of more experience. That’s why I prefer him to the Ox.
The good thing about the Ox’s frustration about not being a first-team regular is, as I noted before, the fact that he’s out of the picture shows that an Arsenal title challenge is out of the realms of impossibility into the realms of probability. The big question is will the Ox play a significant part in it, or will he watch from the sidelines? As talented as he is, I’m suspecting the latter.