Podolski hits double and Zelalem has night to remember as Arsenal ease past Coventry
21:44 24 January 2014
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FA Cup fourth round: Arsenal 4 Coventry City 0
Lukas Podolski struck a brace as Arsenal eased into the fifth round of the FA Cup with a comfortable victory over Coventry City on a rare Friday night fixture in north London.
Podolski opened the scoring with a smart run and finish from a tight angle after 15 minutes and he doubled Arsenal’s lead with a close-range header later in the first half.
Substitutes Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla added some gloss to the result with a goal each in the closing stages after Leon Clarke had previously missed Coventry’s best chances.
It is no secret that the Gunners are keen to bolster their strikeforce in the January transfer window, but Podolski – making only his second start since August – provided a timely reminder of his finishing ability, albeit against League One opposition.
And the 28-year-old wasn’t the only German to catch the eye. There was also a senior debut for highly-rated 16-year-old Gedion Zelalem, who became the first player to feature for Arsenal who was born after Arsene Wenger took charge of the club in 1996.
Zelalem impressed on Arsenal’s pre-season tour to Asia and is set to sign a professional deal with the Gunners when he turns 17 on Sunday.
As expected, Wenger made a host of changes from last weekend’s 2-0 win over Fulham. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his first start since August, while Podolski was joined in attack by Nicklas Bendtner. Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson also came into a defence backed by Lukasz Fabianski in goal.
The Gunners pressed and probed in the early stages and Podolski should have put them ahead after 10 minutes when he skied a teasing cross from Jenkinson in the six yard box.
It would prove a rare miss for the German, however, and he was clinical five minutes later when he collected a clever pass from Mesut Ozil and slotted home from a narrow angle after waltzing past Coventry goalkeeper Joe Murphy.
The visitors had spent most of the contest camped in their own half but Carl Baker almost hit a shock equaliser during a rare foray forward in the 18th minute.
The Coventry captain eluded Per Mertesacker on the edge of the Arsenal box and his dipping shot required an agile save from Fabianski,
Arsenal doubled their lead midway through the half with a goal that Steve Bould and Tony Adams would have been proud of.
Serge Gnabry’s corner was flicked on at the near post by Mertesacker and Podolski was on hand to nod home from close range on the other side of the six yard box.
The gulf between the two sides was becoming increasingly apparent but there was a moment of solidarity in the 31st minute when Arsenal supporters rose in applause as Coventry fans held up signs in protest at their owners’ controversial decision to move the club’s home games to Northampton.
Gnabry, Jenkinson and Podolski all went close as the Gunners continued to dominate before a partial floodlight failure saw the last five minutes of the half played out in dimmed light, with fans using their smartphones in a light-hearted attempt to help out.
The second period got underway with the floodlights fully restored, but Arsenal were still half-asleep as the Sky Blues went close twice in quick succession through Clarke.
First the striker was thwarted by Fabianski after racing through on goal, then he clipped the outside of the post from Franck Moussa’s cut-back.
The Gunners responded by creating a chance of their own but Bendtner miscued his shot from 12 yards out.
The Dane’s disappointing evening came to an end not long afterwards as Zelalem and Cazorla emerged from the bench for the final 20 minutes.
Giroud was next to appear and his goal came after good work by Gibbs on the left.
The Gunners weren’t finished there, however, and Cazorla struck their fourth when Jenkinson’s fierce shot was parried into his path by Murphy.
There was still time for Ozil to clip a post, but four goals proved more than enough for Wenger’s men, who go into the hat for the fifth round.
Arsenal: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Zelalem 71), Ozil, Gnabry, Podolski (Giroud 79), Bendtner (Cazorla 71). Subs not used: Viviano, Sagna, Monreal, Flamini.