Oxlade-Chamberlain's brace boosts Arsenal to win as Holding holds tough
Arsenal made their way to the EFL Cup quarterfinals with a routine 2-0 win over Reading. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the star man, grabbing both goals for the Gunners, but there were plenty of positives for Arsene Wenger on Tuesday at the Emirates Stadium.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was certainly impressive. He now has five goals in all competitions, compared to just two in the entirety of 2015-16. Considering he has made just seven starts, it's a solid tally.
Speaking after the game, Wenger was moved to praise his young midfielder: "The quality of his concentration and his focus is sharper and more determined. He has worked a lot mentally to be really focused, and it comes out every day." The question now is whether he has done enough to force his way into the side for the trip to Sunderland.
The manager will also be pleased with the clean sheet. In Emiliano Martinez, Arsenal must have one of the best third-choice goalkeepers in the Premier League. In front of him, Rob Holding was excellent and ensured that Reading rarely threatened the goal. It was good to see a couple players return from injury as well. Carl Jenkinson made his comeback after being out for the entirety of 2016, and Olivier Giroud returned from his protected toe problem.
There wasn't much to complain about for Wenger on Tuesday, but he will not have been pleased to see Lucas Perez hobble off with an injury. The manager might have hoped his team would capitalise on their dominance with a more emphatic scoreline, but their final ball was a little off. That's a consequence of playing an unfamiliar the lineup; the understanding that is so integral to cohesive attacking play was not quite there.
7 out of 10-- Wenger got his team selection spot-on. He made nine changes yet managed to maintain sufficient balance in the side. He gave youngsters minutes and helped rehabilitate those players recovering from injury. This will have been a satisfying night for the Frenchman.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Emiliano Martinez, 7 -- With David Ospina the choice goalkeeper for the Champions League, Martinez has been afforded a chance to shine in the EFL Cup. Thus far, he's barely put a foot -- or indeed, a hand -- wrong.
DF Carl Jenkinson, 7 -- This was an excellent return after such a long layoff. Jenkinson's trademark stamina was evident as he played the entire 90 minutes, tearing up and down the right flank as if he hadn't been away. His availability is probably the final nail in the coffin of Mathieu Debuchy's Arsenal career.
DF Rob Holding, 8 -- What a steal this boy looks to be. His composure and authority at the back are remarkable for a footballer of such limited experience. It is easy to see why Wenger chose to keep him and send Calum Chambers out on loan.
DF Gabriel Paulista 7 -- A typically tenacious display. The signing of Shkodran Mustafi has pushed him a little down the pecking order, but it will be interesting to see how close he can push back in the battle for a first-team place.
DF Kieran Gibbs, 7 -- After Nacho Monreal struggled again against Middlesbrough, Gibbs mIGHT well feel he is deserving of a Premier League place. He has impressed in run-outs against Ludogrets and now Reading, and he seems remarkably sharp for a player who has barely figured this season.
MF Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 7 -- The former Ipswich loanee is an intriguing player who is adept in a number of positions. Much of his time at Portman Road was spent on the wing, while he played against Nottingham Forest in the last round as a right-back. Against Reading, he operated as a defensive midfielder -- the role Wenger considers his best. With tidy passing and astute positioning, it's easy to see why.
MF Mohamed Elneny, 7 -- He kept things simple in the middle of the park and used his experience to guide some of the younger players through the game. He will presumably be called upon again against Sunderland, but that shouldn't be an issue for a player with his excellent fitness.
MF Alex Iwobi, 7 -- As a No. 10, he is free of some of the defensive responsibility he occasionally struggles with on the flank. He showcased his trickery and invention and ought to have scored but slipped at a crucial moment. Goals are what he needs to add to his game.
FW Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 8 -- This sort of performance is exactly what Wenger and Arsenal fans were hoping for. First, he skipped outside his marker and fizzed a low shot into the far corner. Then a deflected strike left Ali Al-Habsi without a chance.
FW Jeff Reine-Adelaide, 7 -- The talented youngster has a lot to offer: speed, skill and athleticism. He is able to play in a number of positions and seems set to be part of Arsenal's senior squad for years to come.
FW Lucas Perez, 6 -- This wasn't a great night for the Spanish striker. He probably ought to have scored in the first half, but he chose to square the ball when shooting looked more straightforward. He also departed clutching his ankle after a crunching tackle.
FW Olivier Giroud, 6 -- He replaced Reine-Adelaide and showed off his aerial ability and hold-up play.
MF Chris Willock, NR -- He came on for Lucas but was not able to exert much influence on the game.
MF Gedion Zelalem, N/R -- The American midfielder was brought on for Oxlade-Chamberlain and helped Arsenal control possession in the final 10 minutes.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.