Arsenal’s League Cup campaign kicks off under the Emirates Stadium lights tonight against Coventry City. The usual press about Arsenal not taking the competition seriously continues apace, but ask any Gooner what they’re excited about tonight, and it will definitely centre around the latest crop of talented youngsters at the club.
The goalkeeper could be anyone between Vito Mannone, James Shea or Damien Martinez. As third-choice keeper (despite his run of starts for the first team), it would still be of value to give Mannone another start against Coventry. Yet the nod could easily go Shea’s way, with the Irishman having been on the bench for Arsenal’s one Champions League fixture this season, ahead of the much vaunted Argentinian Martinez.
Andre Santos should be a given for the left back berth while Djourou and Miquel could make their first starts this season. Nico Yennaris should also feature as Carl Jenkinson gets a well-earned rest.
It’s much more difficult to speculate who will feature further forward, with a number of combinations presenting themselves. The likes of Francis Coquelin, Thomas Eisfeld, and Serge Gnabry will all be champing at the bit to feature, while Emmanuel Frimpong should make an appearance from the bench after his very long injury lay-off.
I’m going with Coquelin as the midfield anchor and Eisfeld to feature further forward, given his encouraging showings in Arsenal’s preseason. If all things are going well, the exciting Gnabry could also make an appearance off the sub’s bench.
I believe Aaron Ramsey deserves another start after wracking up the bench appearances this season, and in the interest of continuity, should get a place after his good showing against Manchester City.
I also have a feeling we may see Andrey Arshavin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both starting, and perhaps swapping positions between the left flank and central midfield. Many have complained of Arshavin not getting a proper run in his (allegedly) preferred position – a topic I have given my two cents on before – but I believe that scope exists for these two players to swap positions on a whim to confuse the opposition defence.
Finally, I see no real reason to give Marouane Chamakh a start tonight over Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman needs to get off the mark about now, especially ahead of the Chelsea fixture this weekend. Playing Chamakh would serve little purpose and I don’t think a complete overhaul of the starting line-up, even against struggling Coventry, is advisable. Hence my preference for Ramsey and Giroud.
The match is a genuine chance for Giroud and Arshavin to announce themselves (or in the Russian’s case, re-announce himself) by getting their scoring boots on. Against a club in footballing free fall, this is an opportunity to create some havoc and get a feel for scoring goals and creating chances.
It cannot be understated in Arshavin’s case, who can still make a valuable contribution to Arsenal’s season if he puts his mind to it. The manager has come out big for the Russian in the press, saying he is still a fan of a very talented player.
I have personally a great respect for Andrey Arshavin because sometimes some wrong ideas are circulated about him – that he doesn’t care, but it’s completely the opposite. He’s a 200 per cent professional who works very hard in training every day.
It would take the bravest of men to bet against Arsenal beating a League One outfit at their own ground, especially in front of a reported sell-out crowd.
Speaking of which, the tickets sold for this game is reason enough to show what being a big club really is all about. Compare that to the Manchester City game, where half the ground was empty as Aston Villa ran riot last night, or the Spurs sides that have played in front of a mere 30,000 against some unknowns in the Europa League. Trophiless we may be, but it just proves that there will always be something remarkably special about the red and white.
More tomorrow. Enjoy the match.