24 September 2013

Even before Wednesday's cup-tie, Gnabry's scored on West Brom.

That's how good he is (or can be).

Of course, I'm referring to the U21 match about two weeks back, when the young German unleashed a thunderous volley to put the Arsenal squad past West Brom 1-0. It's one thing to score against a squad of teenagers, but Gnabry has shown in his short time with the first team that he has what it takes to play with the big
boys, having tucked in nicely against Stoke on Saturday after a nervous start (understandable given the short notice, Gnabry having found that he would start only after Walcott tore muscles in his abdomen during warm-ups). Think of that jolt: getting the call-up is one thing, but he probably assumed that he would be watching comfortably at least until the 70th minute or so, at which point he might get the call if the game was safely iced way). To then find out that he would get the start, and to have that start come on the day of Mesut Özil's Emirates debut, must have electrified Gnabry. For him to have turned in such a calm, assured performance anyway signals that the 18-year old could be ready, not just to simply join the first team, but to make actual contributions.

Of course, with injuries to Walcott and the Ox, we naturally turn to Gnabry to play on the wing. Instead of discussing who might rotate in among those three, Gnabry is the last man standing. Happily, he acquitted himself quite well on Saturday, moving intelligently, making the most of his chances (save for a shot that he sent sailing into the seats), absorbing some cynical fouls (such as Huth's cold-cock shoulder-block that should have drawn a booking), dropping deep to help in the build-up, and making himself an all-around good guy to have on the pitch.

This isn't the first time that Gnabry has been totted up as a competitor with Walcott; he's even been mentioned as an out-and-out replacement. Should Walcott continue to struggle to find his form after undergoing abdominal surgery, and should Gnabry seize the moment presented him in Walcott's absence, those murmurings could grow. Rather than build up that molehill, however, let's enjoy the idea that we could see some competition on the right flank between the two, the kind that can extract some exquisite performances from each. You won't get Gnabry to engage in any such discussion, as he's widely touted as having a great attitude and ethic, the kind of player who puts his shoulder to the wheel and keeps going until the whistle blows. I'm not implying any contrasts. I'm just mentioning certain attributes.

Despite his youth, he's made first-team appearances already, having made three appearances in the 2012-13 campaign—the 6-1 victory over Coventry City (almost a year ago to the day, 26 September) the infamous 1-0 loss at Norwich , and the 2-0 loss to Schalke in the 2-0 Champions League group stage. Those experiences should serve him well, even if this is "only" the league cup. Given our recent history in this competition—crashing out to Bradford and Birmingham in successive years—some have fretted that facing recently-relegated West Brom is an ominous sign. Far better, they'd say, to face a lower-tier opponent in these early rounds. However, the spirit in this squad is such that I don't care who we face. We've won ten road-matches in a row. Heck, we haven't lost to West Brom in more than three years. Sure, they'll be throwing on a few new faces, Nicholas Anelka, Stéphane Sessègnon and Victor Anichebe among them, but this is a squad we really should have no trouble despatching. After all, if we can't get past West Brom, we have no business progressing in the cup, now, do we?

Therefore, I'm looking to Gnabry to turn in another impressive performance, this time adding a goal to his resumé as we look to advance. He's netted once against the Baggies, so here's hoping he'll repeat the performance on Wednesday.

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