I find tonights League Cup encounter with Chelski an intriguing one. A competition that Arsène has historically been such an advocate of blooding young players in, even to the extent of getting to a final and prioritising development over giving the club the best possibility of a trophy, has this season seen a change of tact from the manager and here we are with an opportunity of another day out at Wembley.
This season’s decision to rotate the team for the earlier rounds – much like he has done in the Europa League – has been the right one in my opinion, despite the fact we’ve looked a little ropey and the Football hasn’t been that great, but it’s been the right decision because we do find ourselves in the semi final with home advantage and a chance of lining up against Man City next month.
Whether or not Wenger sticks with his policy of rotation tonight however, I’d be very surprised with, not least because the way the fixture list has now fallen. We’re out of the FA Cup and that means that after tonight we have no game until Swansea away next Tuesday. That’s a six day rest for the whole squad and given how inconsistent and quite frankly terrible we’ve been at times in the league this season, it means that we can afford to go all out in this competition and see if we can win it, so I’m expecting the strongest possible side to play tonight.
That won’t be new boy Mkhitaryan, who is cup tied, but hopefully it will see the return of Nacho Monreal and Aaron Ramsey. The Spaniard came off as a precaution on Saturday but was pictured in training yesterday and said some positive things through his social media channels so we have to be hopeful.
Hopeful because we will need our best team tonight to win. There has been literally nothing to separate these two teams in normal time all season. We beat them in extra time in the glorified friendly at the beginning of the season, it was 0-0 in the league at their place, 2-2 at ours, then 0-0 in the first leg. As evenly matched an encounter as you can say because whilst we have struggled, so have Chelski in recent weeks, so we have to hope that the Arsenal team can go one better than those score-lines tonight.
We probably have to because we all know we’re likely to be conceding at some stage. This isn’t an Arsenal team that finds clean sheets an easy commodity to come by so I suspect that if we’re all going to get our chance at booking our tickets to Wembley come next week we’re going to have to get a minimum of two and probably three. If we do concede and it’s a score draw then we might have a bit more extra time, but that will be it, so it will be quite fascinating to see how Arsène sets his team up tonight.
Cagey start aimed at containment, before going for the game?
Hell-for-leather approach with a view to outscoring the opposition?
A mixture of the two?
I suspect we might see a bit of a slow start to this one as the two teams try to ‘feel’ each other out. If I was in Arsène’s shoes that would mean a three at the back with Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, then Bellerin at right wing-back and on the left I’d still go with Kolasinac. Mainland-Niles has done well at full back and there’s no doubt he has more pace to burn than Kolasinac, but the Bosnian is a more experienced player and I think he is a better option against Chelski tonight.
I don’t think Arsène will play Sead though. I think Arsène is on the verge of binning him and when Ainsley came on for Nacho at the weekend it seemed like the clearest indication that Kolasinac is on borrowed time. Which I’ll have to be honest and say I find staggering. He’s had the slightest drop of form over a couple of months and Arsène could be looking to sack him off. There are so many examples of players being given too long before being hooked by Arsène down the years, that this feels a little unjust.
Of course I could just be massively reading too much in to this, but I guess the teamsheet tonight will give us an indication, especially if it’s three at the back, because Kolasinac was in the Bundesliga team of the year in that position last year.
In front of the defence you’d expect to see Jack and Granit, but I think Ramsey will have a part to play at some time. Jack is starting to look a little leggy towards the end of some of our matches and so to have someone with the energy of Ramsey able to come in and pump up the running levels in the second half can be very useful indeed.
Which leaves the front three, in which I’d be going for Özil, Lacazette and oddly enough, Iwobi. That’s probably the first time I’ve preferred him to Welbeck in a pre match selection, but given his goal and performance on Saturday I’d be tempted to see if he can replicate that again tonight.
We know where Chelski are dangerous. We know Hazard will run at our players, dive if he gets half the chance and certainly cause us a headache all night. We know that – if fit – Fabregas will be able to find balls in behind; its like some kind of sucky unwritten rule that all ex-Arsenal players have to have blinders against us. But Willian is the one I worry about. Conte has inexplicably left him out of the team for much of this season but he played at the weekend, scored, and I think has always looked dangerous. I think Morata is our suspended which means we might see the Brazilian in the front three and I just hope that if we do, he hasn’t got his scoring boots on.
This is an impossible match to predict. I wouldn’t give us much hope if we were at Stamford Bridge tonight but with home advantage, plus the likelihood of a strong team tonight, who knows what Arsenal we’re going to see.
Fingers crossed it’s one that is up for the cup.
Catch you all tomorrow.