As Arsenal approach their third game of the season, fourth if you count the Community Shield as a kickoff to the season and not a preseason match, Arteta has his first dilemma to settle. On one hand, this matchup against Leicester City is a cup match against the current first place team. On the other hand, the Carabao Cup generally sits lower on the totem pole than other competitions, and Arsenal have a trip to Anfield coming up on Monday. Throw in a few injury problems at the back, limited quality in the midfield to choose from, and a handful of players in competition with teammates for Premier League starting time, and Arteta’s selection may be one of the more interesting aspects of the match.
Leicester City come into the match with their own considerations. Coming off beating Burnley 4-2 in a relatively comfortable fashion at the weekend, Leicester have a quick turnaround before heading to The Ethiad on Sunday. But recent success isn’t likely to be the only positive, driving force behind Leicester City this season. Last season, after starting to put together their best year since winning the league in 2015-16, they fell apart leading up to the shutdown and never picked up the pieces after the restart. In their final 14 matches, February to July, Leicester only managed 3 wins. They posted 3 wins, 5 draws, and 6 losses for a measly 14 points and a miserable finish that saw them usurped from the top 4. Making amends for that finish and reaching the Champions League will be a top priority this year.
If there is one positive for Arsenal, it would be that Leicester find themselves in a similar situation this weekend, going up against a top team like City or Liverpool. If there is a downside, it’s Arsenal’s recent run of form against the Foxes. In the previous 12 matches, Arsenal have won 6, drawn 3, and lost 3, but those 2 of those losses came more recently than the wins. Arsenal lost both matches to Leicester in 2019, 3-0 and 2-0, and managed a draw during the restart last season. Breaking this recent streak today would not only be great timing, but a fantastic bounce back from the weekend’s subpar performance.
Arsenal beat West Ham, but no one will be hanging their hats on the performance leading to many wins should they repeat that level of play. The Arsenal lineup may look very different from the one that trotted out against West Ham — something that may be for the better — but don’t expect Arteta to take this match any less seriously. “We’re going to take the carabao cup seriously, that’s for sure. And with the fixtures we have, number of games, it is very difficult,” Arteta said. “We have to go day by day and see what position we are at tomorrow. We will put out the strongest possible team to win it.”
It’s a strong statement, but it may make a bit of sense after hearing him talk about his belief that this cup is becoming one that teams are beginning to take very seriously. With only one league winner each year, there are a lot of clubs that may be narrowing the gap between themselves and the top but who remain a long way from being title contenders. Those teams want titles, they want silverware, their fans expectations are now higher, and their hunger for success grows. It leads clubs to putting out stronger and stronger lineups for these matches, which may be good for the event and football overall but doesn’t always help sides toward the top of the table that are juggling multiple competitions.
It makes the selection and tactics for this match all the more interesting. I, personally, still believe we will see a very rotated team, but it will be supplemented in key areas with quality capable of carrying the team through.
Regardless of the teams selected, it’s a cup match against a quality side and that is an opportunity to test ourselves and see if Mikel’s identity remains intact with players moved around or replaced.
As I mentioned throughout the first part, the lineup is a bit up for grabs, so maybe a better title for this section is lineup guess, rather than predicted, but I will try to walk you through my thought process at least. From there, it is in Mikel’s hands to make me look smart.
Before we dive in, let’s take a look at Arsenal’s recent team news since there are a few important updates:
Emile Smith Rowe
Sustained an injury to his right shoulder in training. Now out of protective sling and aiming to return to full training within the next 10 days.
Right calf. Aiming to be back in full training this week.
Tight left groin on Saturday. Settling well and aiming to resume full training later this week.
Right calf. Not available for selection for Leicester City (a) on Wednesday, left out as a precaution with tight calf.
This news of course is added to the list of long-term injuries like Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, Shkodran Mustafi, and Gabriel Martinelli who won’t be available.
Alright, lineup time. Goalkeeper will be an interesting selection. I actually am going to guess Leno. Matt Macey would appear to be the obvious rotation since he has been at the club for longer than 2 days, but there are rumors of him departing in the near future, which could take him out of contention. Runarsson was announced on Monday and has been spotted training immediately, so it could be him, but that feels like a quick turnaround. I certainly believe it is between Leno and Runar, and with Runarssoon just joining, and Leno regaining his edge post-injury, I am going with Bernd.
Sticking with the 3-4-3 formation, I believe we will see William Saliba, David Luiz, and Kolasinac. Kolasinac was absolutely diabolical in the West Ham match and should be nowhere near a starting lineup, which is precisely why Arteta will select him for tomorrow. He’s not going to risk Tierney before Liverpool, and I believe he will give Gabriel the day off in prep as well. We absolutely could see Gabriel take up that left center back spot, but that would force Arteta to overhaul his entire tactical setup to accommodate, which I don’t think he will have done in this short amount of time. Luiz will get the start as a way to build some fitness, test his neck, and prepare for Anfield on Monday. Saliba will get the start after playing with the U23 side which will be exciting to watch.
Midfield four. Left wingback, Bukayo Saka. Right wingback, Maitland-Niles. Central pivot, Xhaka and Elneny. Soares certinaly would have gotten the call on the right, but he is hurt yet again. This leaves either Bellerin or Maitland-Niles, and I believe Mikel will give Hector the rest for Liverpool. Saka played his first game since the Community Shield, which means he has a little bit more life in the legs to make a second start. Finally, I believe the midfield pairing is where Arteta will look to slot in some real experience. It may be a difficult blow for Willock, but with Arsenal having off until Monday, and Xhaka hardly ever missing a game, I believe Arteta will turn to him to be a rock in the midfield alongside Elneny. The two have proved they are remarkably compatible next to one another.
Forward three. Right wing, Pepe. Central striker, Nketiah. Left wing Aubameyang. With Pepe competing alongside Willian for the lead spot on the right, when Arsenal play a 3-4-3, this game could be his chance to shine. I think Arteta will rotate Lacazette out for Nketiah. And similar to Xhaka, Aubameyang is another player that just plays every match, almost regardless of how many he has been a part of recently. Because of this, I think he will play, and Arsenal will look to him in a major way.
That makes our side: Leno; Kolasinac, Luiz, Saliba; Saka, Xhaka, Elneny, Maitland-Niles; Aubameyang, Nketiah, Pepe.
I think this is going to come down to who gets out of the gates faster or who puts in the first goal. As the game goes on, both managers will be very conscientious about how they use their subs, and some impact players will have eyes on the match ahead. There won’t be a crowd for either team to fall back on meaning whoever can get control, I believe will keep it.
1-0, always Arsenal.