Check out today’s prematch blog: Nought to lose, all to gain
As Arsenal prepare for their Carabao Cup clash with Manchester City, the lineup emerges as a major point of interest. The team has struggled in the Premier League, they have been flawless in cup matches. Will this side resemble Arteta’s Premier League selection or his Europa League selection?
Chances are it will be a blend of both, my guess is leaning toward Europa League-like. Arsenal continue their heavy schedule and with three games last week, this is a chance to get different legs in while resting quite a few Premier League regulars.
What adds to the intrigue here is that Arsenal are not bound by any registration which technically opens the door for William Saliba and Mesut Ozil to make appearances for the first time. But let’s adjust ourselves.
While there is technically a chance, I would rate it a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, small chance that Ozil makes any sort of appearance. The idea that he is even match fit seems laughable, but moreso, the efforts Arsenal are going to to move beyond him as a part of their future seem to eliminate the opportunity. We can discuss whether that’s been a good decision, and only the club knows all the inner details around ‘why’, but it seems like believing Ozil will play today is asking to be disappointed.
While Saliba is not in the same scenario, far from, it still seems like a big ask for him to get a start today. It’s reported that the club are weighing out options to send him on loan in January, it seems clear that they believe he needs more time to grow, and it’s believed that he is meeting with Arteta and Edu this week to discuss that future. Given those aspects, it doesn’t seem like a player likely to get his first team, competitive debut. But who does that leave?
Before we look at a very difficult lineup to select, let’s look at team news.
Right calf. Sustained slight strain to the calf in training last week.
Will miss Tuesday’s match against Manchester City and is being assessed ahead of the weekend.
Available for selection after one-match suspension.
Left thigh. Sustained a strain to the thigh during Tottenham Hotspur (a) on December 6.
Thomas is currently unavailable and is working hard with our medical team in order to return to training as soon as possible.
Suspension. Serving the last match of a three-match suspension.
Honestly, it’s a pretty tough lineup to project. Historically, Arteta likes to play pretty strong lineups in competitions like these, but his rotated Europa League lineups have been very successful. Obviously, playing against Rapid Vienna, Molde, and Dundalk is very different than playing against Manchester City — even if City does rotate their side quite a bit.
The side I selected may be overly rotated, but time will tell.
Leno to stay in net, Mari and Chambers to be given more chances to impress as they return to fitness and try to break into Arsenal’s Premier League side. Kolasinac is very poor, but seems to get the nod in matches like these when it comes to giving Tierney a break.
In the midfield, options are oddly scarce. Maybe I would select Granit Xhaka, but he has one more game to sit out after his straight red card. With Saka needing a rest and few other options, Arteta is left going very ‘strong’ or very rotated. I put strong in quotation marks because Arsenal’s midfield is anything but strong…
Soares for right wingback, a central pivot of Elneny and Willock, and AMN on the left. I can’t say I’m confident in this selection, but it seems right up Arteta’s alleyway.
Given I have Arsenal in a 3-4-3, there is no true attacking midfielder to play that central, number 10 role. Because of that, I have placed Smith Rowe on the left. Maybe he flips to the right and Nelson moves to the left, but by placing Emile on the left, he can tuck in more central to balance with Willock when Joe gets forward. This opens the door from the left wingback, AMN in this selection, to get forward as the third attacker. Essentially, that would look like the image below.
By going this route, you achieve a central presence, while still progressing into the 2-3-5 attacking formation that Arteta wants to create with his five channels. Additionally, from this shape, should Soares look to get forward along the right side to add an attacker, Kolasinac can tuck in creating the midfield box shape that Arsenal have used in the past as well, essentially creating a 2-2-6, or 2-2-2-4 depending on how you want to look at it.
I think it’s going to be a tough one. City will likely rotate their squad which offers a match on more even pegging, but City should still be in control with their midfield alone. Arsenal will have to be efficient and effective with the few chances they have, while Arteta will have to select a bench that can offer change. Lately his bench hasn’t been filled with players that I would say offer an injection of energy or change. Rather they have felt like role players that could come in and do much the same job.
I don’t have a great feeling about the end result, but am hoping there are plenty of positives about the performance of specific individuals like Willock and Smith Rowe.
Prediction: Manchester City advance