No Europe this season means we enter the League Cup at the 2nd round stage. The last time this happened was 1995 when we beat Hartlepool 3-0. We went onto the semi-finals that year, but went out to Aston Villa over two legs.
For those who think our recent illness troubles are a new thing, I enjoyed this snippet from the Arseweb report of the Villa game:
Platt came on for a knackered Winterburn (he’d apparently had chicken pox and not trained all week).
Tonight, the opposition is much more difficult that Hartlepool. West Brom are second in the Championship, unbeaten in the league so far this season, and will provide a tough test for an Arsenal side that has not got going yet. It’s why I think Mikel Arteta will pick as strong a team as possible.
Ordinarily, at this stage of this competition, you’d see players rested, but bar one or two, none of them deserve a rest anyway. In fact, it’s a competitive game to get people back to match fitness. Yesterday’s team news provided updates on 11 players and their fitness issues, so there’s a lot going on.
We remain without Ben White, Thomas Partey, Eddie Nketiah, but players like Hector Bellerin and Gabriel have returned to training and will be assessed ahead of this game. Strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are available again after their bouts with Covid, and both Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Martinelli can play despite being subbed off against Chelsea on Sunday.
As well as that, new signings Aaron Ramsdale and Martin Odegaard could play if picked, with Arteta saying:
They’ve both been training a few days, only a few days, we just got the VISA from Martin yesterday I think and Aaron has been a while without training, but they both want to play.
Again, in normal circumstances, the League Cup is the perfect game to debut a new goalkeeper, but with pressure on to win tonight because of two defeats in the league, it will be a test of Mikel Arteta’s faith in Ramsdale to start him tonight. To be fair, he advocated for the player during the summer, he convinced the club to spend £24m on him, so he must think he’s good enough for a game against West Brom. I guess it comes down to readiness/fitness, but we’ll see later on.
Beyond that, scoring some goals and not conceding stupid ones would be a nice way for tonight to go. I genuinely have no idea how it’s going to play out, but one thing is for sure, West Brom won’t be that worried about this current Arsenal team, so it’s up to us to step up and be better than we have been in the last two games. The manager summed it up perfectly:
We need to give our fans and probably the outside world some encouragement, and that’s only given with results, so we need to get results.
When are you going to get the results, etc etc? Hopefully tonight.
There were some interesting comments from Arteta about our current plight, and the need to be more competitive in the Premier League:
This is a project that is going to take some time. You can see and tell from the recruitment that we’ve done and the really young squad that we have at the moment and it cannot happen overnight. We all want to make it as quick as possible and we know that the responsibility for us it to fight with the top teams in every competition and that’s not going to change, and I think we really need them and this group of players really needs them and the club needs them now next to us because we need that confidence, that support and that energy.
To me that sounds like a man who has been given some assurances that he’ll be allowed time to work with the players he’s brought in. As I said last week, a club that is backing a manager to the tune of £130m (so far) in the transfer window, isn’t going to sack him after three games of the new season. Of course, if results don’t improve, what happens becomes inevitable, but right now it sounds very much like Arteta knows he’s not under the same kind of pressure internally as he is externally. He’s not stupid though, he knows which way the wind is blowing with the fans, and that he has to start delivering wins for that gale to die down a bit.
It is interesting to hear some stories emerge about Edu though, and how he is the one under more scrutiny. This wouldn’t surprise me at all, I have to say. Ultimately, the Technical Director at a club like this should feel like a more powerful figure than he does. Given his close association with Raul and what we did during his tenure, I think he did well to hitch his wagon to Arteta’s, and in terms of the incoming business this summer, we can all see there’s a plan.
However, with less than a week of an admittedly difficult window to go, we’ve only sold one player – Joe Willock to Newcastle. That is a big part of Edu’s remit, and while it might not necessarily be a case that his job depends on generating more funds between now and 11pm on August 31st, he’s going to be under increasing pressure if we go into another season with a bloated squad full of players who shouldn’t be here.
One to keep an eye on, I reckon.
For some extra reading this morning (if you can face it!), Lewis takes a look at what went wrong against Chelsea in the latest Tactics Column – and it’s much more about the collective than individuals.