17 February 2014

Sanogo impresses against Liverpool...

When Yaya Sanogo's name appeared in the starting XI, I gnashed my teeth. Sure, I've been calling for Giroud to be rested, but I wasn't ready for it to happen against Liverpool. Not in the FA Cup. Not in a competition perhaps most likely to see us hoist a trophy for the first time in nearly a decade. Along with Monreal, Jenkinson, and Fabianksi, Sanogo looked to be part of an XI that was set to concede to an in-form opponent without putting of much resistance. To see Sanogo (and the others) play so well was revelatory—not in some season's savior sense, more a realization that Arsène may have yet worked his magic again in finding an obscure player, full of potential and ready to grow and contribute.

There have been suggestions already that Sanogo start on Wednesday against Bayern, which might be a tad premature. This was his first Arsenal start, his first time playing much more than 30 minutes, and while he did well for himself, it's still clear that he's not quite there yet. Still, he played with confidence, courage, and strength, and he delivered more often than not.

Keep in mind, though, that he's 21 and making a huge jump from Ligue 2's Auxerre to the Prem, to a title-tilt, and was thrown on for an FA Cup clash of epic proportions. He had to tangle with two of the Prem's rougher center-backs in Skrtel and Agger, and he more than held his own.

Considering his size (1.91m), he struck me as quick and coordinated, even quick at times. Despite his inexperience, one could sense that he was aware of what he wanted to do, even if the pace of the game was overwhelming at times, but he lacked the technical skill or savvy to execute. Still, his hold-up and work-rate were strong, and he involved himself at every opportunity, fighting for (and frequently winning) 50-50s in the air while making himself a target for outlet passes. He played within himself for the most part, receiving the ball and quickly looking to lay it off to an onrushing midfielder.

On our first goal, Mesut Özil sized him up and found him with a cross, which Sanogo chested down and then lashed sharply goalward on a half-volley only for Gerrard to get in the way, deflecting it into Oxlade-Chamberlain's path, and Ox made good to put us ahead. Sanogo's combinations with Ox were a large part of our attack throughout most of the first half, and it's a shame we can't credit Sanogo with his first Arsenal assist there. That will come, as will his first goal, if he continues to play as he did today.

Of course, it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops. He's rough. His touch is heavy. His decision-making needs some work. He whiffed on more than one occasion. You know what, though? Even in those moments, he looked like a guy ready to build on the experiences rather than some rube in from the sticks who was in over his head, dazzled by the bright lights or loud noise. He looked like he was up to the occasion, his mistakes coming from adrenaline, effort, and being manhandled and fouled relentlessly as Liverpool's defense tried to dislodge him from the attack. As he faded, it was clear that Sanogo had proven Arsène's faith in him, if only for this evening.

He's not ready to lead the line on a regular basis, by any means—unless this was just a glimpse of what he's capable of and, having gotten his toes wet, he's ready to dive in. He reminds me of a not-crazy Adebayor with his height and gait. What he lacks in technical ability could come through time on the training ground and on the pitch. Keep in mind, he missed most of last season through injury, and he's therefore spent a lot of time recuperating instead of training. If he can stay healthy, and if his performance today is any indication, he could be someone to watch for years to come. At a minimum, he's shown that he can show up and contribute enough to give Giroud a rest.

It's too early to start him against Bayern, though. Maybe in a week's time against Sunderland? He may not the the forward we were looking for in the summer or winter transfer-windows, but he's already played a key role in helping us progress to the FA Cup quarterfinal. Not bad for a start. Not bad at all.