Arsenal face West Ham this evening in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup. Until now our run this competition has been relatively kind. First up were League One side Doncaster, and then it was Championship Norwich who almost went through until they got a lovely, late slice of Eddie.
Tonight, our second string – and make no mistake that’s what it will be – will face a West Ham side who held our Premier League XI to a 0-0 draw under a week ago. David Moyes has had a difficult run since he took over from Slaven Bilic, and while he’s got the league to consider, he’ll know a good cup run could put him in good stead. So, I suspect they won’t be rotating as much as Arsene Wenger will tonight.
From our point of view we’ll have to see what formation the manager uses, a back three or a back four, and what he does with the left back/left wing-back selection will be pretty interesting. Ordinarily, it’d be Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He’s played there in every one of the Europa League and Carabao Cup games, but he’s been selected for our last two Premier League fixtures at left back after we returned to a four man defence.
If he doesn’t play tonight, is it a sign that he’s going to start against Liverpool? We have more obvious candidates for Friday, obviously, with both Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac natural in that position, and to ask a youngster playing out of position to try and deal with the league’s best player so far this season seems both foolish and unfair, so I’m curious to see what he does tonight.
Jack Wilshere, also a mainstay of these cup games, has now been shifted upwards in the absence of Aaron Ramsey (out until January with a hamstring strain), so he’s unlikely to take part tonight. It’ll mean game time for Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, but if we play with a back four it leaves a midfield gap where Wilshere would have been, and it’s not blindingly obvious who will play there – although Joe Willock could be given a go.
Theo Walcott is fit again and will start, Olivier Giroud will get his run-out as he does in these games, while Danny Welbeck’s inability to make any kind of impact when sent on in Premier League fixtures means he’s going to be given minutes to get under his belt as he tries to find some of the form he lost while out injured.
So, I don’t really know how we’ll line-up at the back, there’s a question mark over midfield – particularly its ability to create anything for those in the front three – and it’s very hard to know what we’re going to get from this team tonight. The fact that Liverpool come to town on Friday will probably mean that there’ll be little but youthful potential on the bench, evidenced by how the manager spoke about them:
It’s a very exciting bunch of young players. They went recently to Manchester City and won in a convincing way and I made that decision a few months ago to try and keep them at the club because I believe they all have futures at the club. It is very important for Arsenal to continue giving chances to young players we educate here.
Winning tonight means a two-legged semi-final in January, which some might have said is too much of a distraction with everything else going on. Maybe so, but it’s not as if we’re fighting for the title, and it’s not as if we’ll be playing our ‘first team’ anyway so its impact on the league is minimal. Anyway, when we make all those signings in January we’ll have even more depth (haha haha etc).
There’s been a general lack of fluency about the team this season, perhaps because of all the chopping and changing, and the inability to create real momentum. This tournament though is one in which we’ve always made changes, so let’s hope whatever side he puts out, in whatever shape he chooses, can do the business.
Meanwhile, some interesting stuff from Petr Cech on Alexandre Lacazette. The keeper says the team need to adapt to having the French international up front, saying:
I think we, as a team, we need to get more out of him because sometimes he makes a very good movement but the ball does not arrive every time at the right moment. I think it’s a matter of time.
We’re now heading into the sixth month of his Arsenal career, and while I think it’s gone well enough, there is definitely a sense we could get more. It’s been the case in the past that when a player gets these early months under their belt, they feel more confident and do better in the second half of the season – Robert Pires’ first campaign with us is a case in point there.
Wenger’s decision to substitute him a lot is one that frustrates, but it also feels very deliberate. Whether it’s building up his stamina for the Premier League, protecting him from injuries because he’s finding it hard going, or that he just wants to give Giroud minutes is anybody’s guess. It could be all of the above, but there have been times when we’ve needed a goal and taken off our record signing striker and leading goalscorer.
For all the criticism of the manager, if you’ve watched him closely down the years you’ll know that his tendency in those situations is usually to throw on as many forwards as possible, so it does make me think there is perhaps some method to that particular madness.
It does seem clear that we haven’t really adapted the way to we play to having a different kind of striker though, and that’s one which must fall on Wenger. Can he set up his team to make more Lacazette more effective? Time will tell.
Right, that’s your lot for this morning. Remember, if you haven’t yet listened to this week’s Arsecast Extra there’s plenty in there for you, including a discussion about Mikel Arteta returning as Arsenal manager one day (coincidentally this was followed up by a story in Telegraph saying that the club are considering that very eventuality).