Matchday today in the Carabao Cup and, oddly, I’m looking forward to this one, mainly because I feel like I don’t have to get too emotionally invested in it. It is the least of our worries in terms of trophies, it is played by the rotated sides, so if we go out we can shrug our shoulders and get over it quickly enough. Which is useful given we have Sheffield United at home on Sunday lunchtime.
I also, oddly, quite enjoy seeing some of the rotated players getting some action. I think it gives me some form of comfort if some of the rotated players play and make a good account of themselves, which is what I’m hoping for tonight away to Liverpool. I am a child of the 90s and the Championship Manager generation you see, which was the first iteration of the stats-obsessed football fan that is now commonplace in the game we love. I would take on teams and look closely at stats, how they improve, what their fitness levels were like, rotating as often as I could to keep players happy but also ensure that as few injuries were picked up as possible.
It was a computer game though so you can predict when a player gets injured more or less. You can’t do that in real life, which is why it is a bit of a tricky one for Arteta this evening, given the rumours of some of the outgoings due to happen. You see for me, I’d pick a completely rotated team with players less likely to play at the weekend, which would mean we’d see a side looking like this:
Saliba – Gabriel – Sokratis
Cedric – Kolasinac
Torreira – Guendouzi
Nelson – Nketiah – Ozil
But there are question marks over Sokratis, Kolasinac and Torreira. I’d play them because you want these players match fit and ready to be called upon if no sale went through and they were with us for the rest of the season or at least until January. If you can’t sell and you have to make do, you might as well give players game time so you can call on them in the league if you need them. But where we’re at right now suggests that we can’t afford to have some of those players get injured to scupper any deal. Which is why I suspect we’ll still see Saka perhaps, as well as maybe even Luiz or Holding in the back line. In midfield I suspect it’ll be Willock, but who partners him will be interesting. Perhaps Arteta took off Xhaka in the game on MOnday because he wanted a few more minutes knocked off of his legs?
If that’s the case it does make you wonder about the weekend. Arsene Wenger (signed for Arsenal on this day in 96, don’t you know) used to say you only focus on the next match and never look beyond that. Arteta has said similar but in this instance you can’t surely afford to just ignore the fact that come Sunday evening we’d have played three games in less than a week. Rotation is a must and I hope that he goes as hard and fast for it as possible.
Emile Smith-Rowe is back training with the first team and so it’d be nice to see him get some minutes too. I suspect he’d have been given a chance against Leicester had he been fit, so getting some playing time now will be useful, especially as we prepare for the Europa League in a few weeks time. In terms of the rebels – Guendouzi and Ozil – I don’t really expect them to start, even though I’ve listed above, but it would surprise me to see that they don’t even make the bench. We don’t really want to fill the squad with players who could play om Sunday do we? Most of us Arsenal fans agree that this competition is not as significant as the others we’re going for and after Arteta wanted to keep momentum by beating Leicester last week, it does kind of feel like this week he could probably do without playing as many first teamers as possible.
Perhaps Elneny plays instead of Guendouzi or Torreira and perhaps Willock starts alongside him. It’s hardly a dream midfield duo but needs must, plus it will mean Xhaka and Ceballos are saved for Sunday. As well as that, you could move Nelson left and play Pepe again given he only got 20 minutes on Monday night. He needs more games and we need to continue to see him get minutes under his belt, but if we play similar combinations like the Leicester game then I’m almost wondering what the point of playing him would be. He made plenty of good and well-timed runs only for the lack of creativity in our team to expose itself and for us to essentially waste his talent for most of the night against Leicester. Do we really want to do that again with a player who we all know has talent but also sometimes suffers from a lack of confidence?
I’d give Willian another run out tonight and let Pepe have a go at Sheffield United on Sunday, personally, but I’m not paid the big bucks to make those decisions. That’s probably for the best to be honest though.
Liverpool will make wholesale changes too, of that there can be no doubt, with Klopp even showing how much contempt he has for this competition by sending his assistant to do the pre-game interview with the press this week. They will rotate everyone but it will still be a decent team to face us. They’ll have Jota leading the line fresh from scoring against us on Monday, Minamino in on the left, that cheating scummer Elliot from last season who dived to win a penalty in the same fixture last season against us. Curtis Jones will play ion the middle with Grujic and Shaqiri, then a back line that will probably contain Milner, maybe Fabinho, Williams and one other. Although I’m not sure who. Adrian will reprise his role as deputy ‘keeper. It’ll be a side full of confidence given how the squad is probably feeling at the moment and the fact they absolutely battered Lincoln, but we should give them more of a game and I would hope that our rotated players are more than a match for Liverpool’s.
It was a bizarre match last season that saw us knocked out on penalties 5-5, so my hope is that some of those rotated players step up and we see a desire for some revenge.
Let’s certainly hope so.