Sunday 15 December 2019

Wenger happy to rest bigger names as his young Gunners show promise

Arsenal 3-1 Sunderland

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger watches on during the match. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger watches on during the match. Photo: Reuters

Jon West

No one professes to love the FA Cup more than Arsene Wenger and the holders, who retained the trophy last season, dispatched a Sunderland team who also put aside more pressing concerns to give the competition the respect it deserves.

Arsenal travel to Liverpool on Wednesday as Premier League leaders, but although Wenger rested Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Flamini, his Saturday selection resembled in no way the collection of Anfield unknowns that Jurgen Klopp had sent out on Friday night at Exeter.

Wenger gave a rare start to Alex Iwobi (19) and was rewarded with a display that suggests more is to come from the Nigerian. A late cameo from French playmaker Jeff Reine-Adelaide, a 17-year-old summer signing, gave a similar hint.

Wenger predicted the Anfield treatment room would be significantly less populated by the time the Gunners arrive on Merseyside.

"I watched Liverpool, but I did not learn a lot because the team who played is not the team who will play us," Wenger said.

"I rested a few players. Everybody is mentally focused to pull in the same direction. It's easier to keep everybody on board because you have always the next competition, and everybody thinks, 'I have a chance to play'."

A terrible error by Laurent Koscielny allowed Jeremain Lens to fire Sunderland ahead in the 17th minute, but Joel Campbell levelled eight minutes later, following clever play by Theo Walcott.

Substitute Aaron Ramsey made it 2-1 in the 72nd minute, thanks to Hector Bellerin's surge down the right, and the full-back also set up Olivier Giroud for a clinching third.

It was the same score as the league meeting between the two sides a little over a month ago.

The home fans howled at referee Martin Atkinson's decisions, including the non-award of a penalty when Giroud collided with DeAndre Yedlin and Sunderland were encouraged by 2,300 vocal fans.

The focus for Sunderland is now on trying to avoid Premier League relegation and inevitably manager Sam Allardyce continued to grump about three away fixtures in the space of a week and, more specifically, the truncated recovery time between the trip to fellow strugglers Swansea City on Wednesday night and a Saturday lunchtime assignment against Tottenham.

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