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Vela and Wilshire Shine Again… As Usual
Jack Wilshere and Carlos Vela have done it again. And is anyone surprised? Wilshere controlled the match and was, by far, the best player on the pitch in last night’s 2-nil victory over joint-leaders of the Championship, West Bromwich Albion, in the third round of the Carling Cup. The youngsters’ Carling Cup campaign opened at the Emirates and though not sold out, there was a sizeable crowd there as always eagerly anticipating a look at the Arsenal starlets.
The first half ended scoreless despite a few great chances by West Brom which forced equally good saves from Wojciech Szczesny. The number of chances gotten in and around the box may be a bit worrying considering Senderos and Silvestre, two players who will no doubt get minutes in the first team this season, were the starting center-back pairing. Senderos missed two completely unmarked headers from successive corners by Wilshere in the first few minutes of the match.
West Brom looked ready to take the fight to the kids but Jerome Thomas’s temper got the better of him around the hour mark. A scrap for the ball that got a bit rough with Wilshere was followed by a kick-out by Thomas and then a slap to Wilshere’s face. Wilshere’s histrionics were a bit disappointing especially considering he had dove outside the penalty area without any contact a few minutes before, but those are just mere blemishes on what was an otherwise impressive performance by England’s new Great White Hope.
Wilshere looked strong on the run, in his dribbles, and his passing, as always, was visionary. We have gotten used to seeing this kind of stuff from Wilshere but what most impressed me last night was his spirit and his strength. Wilshere’s strength has increased dramatically and he was involved in some really rough fights for the ball, including the one with Thomas, and he was never just brushed aside. His determination both on and off the ball and in attacking and defending last night was exceptional and with each performance he looks more and more mature and on his way to being a really complete player.
Despite being a man up since the half-hour mark, Arsenal continued to struggle to break West Brom down well into the second half due to sloppy passing, mistimed runs, and an overall lack of cohesion. The giveaways in midfield left them constantly vulnerable to counterattacks, as well. This was not the Carling Cup side of 2008-09, that was for sure. Yet, on a night, when they didn’t have their game working, they continued on with their shoulders to the wheel.
The introduction of Carlos Vela, making his season debut, at the hour mark changed everything. Arsenal immediately looked more threatening. Coquelin, who showed industriousness but suffered from the malaise that ran through the side, also came off for Randall. The breakthrough came in the 68th minute as Vela, with his back to goal, took the pass and turned his man clearing enough space for quality left-footed drive that was pushed aside by Kiely only to bounce right to Sanchez Watt who finished easily.
West Brom’s defense and spirit was broken at this point and Arsenal began to look like the side that everyone had paid 10 quid to see. The second goal came less than ten minutes later when a deft, and unexpected, chip by Randall came down off the crossbar and Vela snuck in to take the backpass and nudged it over the line. An excellent effort by Randall but Vela deserved a goal for changing the match.
The most impressive thing about both Vela and Wilshire, and this is how they most differ from Ramsey at the moment, is their remarkable consistency. Wilshere and Vela have impressed almost everytime they have stepped onto the pitch. One cannot help but continually marvel at the possibilities that lie in a side that would contain these two a few years down the road in their prime. Both are cheeky, in a good way, supremely confident, and unflappable.
I see no reason why Vela should not be used as much as possible in the first team this season once he regains full match readiness. Though I suspect we will seem in Theo Walcott’s former role as impact sub for much of this season. But surely there can be no question of his readiness for regular Premier League football. I thought he was ready for a bigger role last season having proven himself as a regular starter in La Liga.
The same goes for Wilshere. Vela can play on the left of the front three and he could also play down the middle and I suspect he would be equally productive in either spot. Wilshere can play straight across the midfield as well. With these two, Wenger has positional options and you wonder just how long it will be before his hand is forced to get them on the pitch in the more meaningful fixtures.
A slight disappointment for me last night was seeing Nacer Barazite start on the bench. He did finally come on for Traore, whose speed was blinding down the left, in the 70th minute, but it wasn’t really enough time for him to find a rhythm in the match. Barazite is a superb player and the arrivals of Wilshere, Vela, and Ramsey in the past two years have obscured the young Dutch attacker a bit. Barazite is technically gifted and his work in the Reserves and on loan in the last two seasons has certainly merited him a large role in this year’s Carling Cup campaign.
I would hate to lose out on Barazite simply due to a lack of playing time. He is only 19 but he’s been at the club for over three years and I can’t help but wonder if he may be getting impatient seeing Mark Randall and Gilles Sunu consistently getting opportunities in the first team ahead of him.
Overall, not what we had maybe hoped for from the youngsters but a solid win against what is essentially a relegation-level Premier League considering that West Brom look like coming right back up from the Championship. Like every Arsenal supporter, and even though I watch the Reserve and Under-18 matches, I find myself anxiously awaiting the Carling Cup ties and I can’t wait for the fourth-round.