Capital One Cup: The Movers and Shakers
Arsenal have a Capital One Cup tie against Coventry City on Wednesday night. Certainly in early rounds against lower league opposition, Arsene likes to give youth its head with his team selection typically a mix of fringe players and youngsters. So who are we likely to see on Wednesday night? Which of the second string will get a run out? Which up and comers? And which senior players might turn out with stern expressions, considering a run out in the League Cup to be beneath them?
The U-21s have benefitted from a fuller fixture list so far this season, so most should be well in tune for a run out. These are the youngsters who I think will look to trouble the bench at least.
SERGE GNABRY- With the likes of Walcott, Arshavin and Eisfeld looking for a run out, it`s unlikely and, too early in any case for the young German to start. But he certainly has made strides since earning an early promotion from the U-18s in the spring. He`s physically well developed already (not to mention that he can run 100m in under 11 seconds), packs a mean shot on him and, much like Chamberlain, has a direct, fearless style of play. He is probably the jewel in the crown for the U-21s just at the moment. But of course the likes of Fran Merida and David Bentley have been anointed similarly in the past. Early physical development can sometimes distort impressions of players at his age, but Gnabry looks to have a precocious talent and will be eyeing up a place on the bench as a potential game changer if required.
HECTOR BELLERIN- The young Spaniard will be another one looking for a place on the bench at least. The fact that he was left on the bench for the U-21s visit to West Ham on Friday suggests he might be in line. The Catalonian has been converted into a roving right back this season and has really begun to impress in the position in the last 3 or 4 games. Bellerin will look to capitalise in the paucity of right back options if Wenger is to field a reserve squad. Jenkinson will surely be rested, which probably opens a door for Yennaris at right back. But with Wilshere and Frimpong not yet ready, Rosicky injured, Ramsey, Diaby, Arteta, Cazorla and Chamberlain likely to be rested and Henderson loaned to Wednesday`s opponents, Yennaris could equally have a chance of starting in his natural midfield berth. If he does, Bellerin is next in line for the right back spot. He`ll at least want a place on the substitutes` bench.
JACK JEBB- Perhaps slightly more left field given that Jebb has yet to even represent the U-21s this season. But young Jebb signed professional terms this week and the 17 year old is highly thought of as a creative central midfielder. With Henderson having been loaned out, there is a niche in the Capital One Cup squad for a schemer in the midfield. Jebb is likely to be asked to step up to the U-21s very soon and will look to be involved in the early rounds of the League Cup in a much more serious way this time next year. Selecting him as a substitute (unlikely to be used) might just waft the ham under his nose to give him the appetite for progression.
There will be some fringe players looking to be involved too. Not so much nascent talents as players who really are looking at stepping up into first team consideration and proving their mettle very soon.
NICO YENNARIS- Very likely to start at right back you feel, even though he plays for the U-21s almost entirely as a defensive midfielder. As I explained earlier, he might even have a good case to play his more natural position alongside Coquelin. Yennaris has captained the U-21s and the U-19s as an older, more experienced head. That level is clearly not challenging him anymore. Having signed a new deal in the summer, Nico will be looking to convince the manager that he can establish himself at Arsenal, but it`s quite likely he`ll spend the winter on loan in the Championship. Wednesday night could go a long way to showing Arsene to keep the faith with him a little longer as a player of value to the first team squad.
THOMAS EISFELD- The German playmaker impressed with the first team in pre season, with Wenger ominously suggesting he was ready for promotion. Eisfeld has had to wait for his chance until now, but he will almost certainly start against Coventry. He too was only introduced from the bench at West Ham on Friday night, suggesting that a more prominent role awaits him. Walcott has hinted broadly that he`d like to be considered as a striker, if he gets his wish and starts there on Wednesday, a space on the right could be freed up for the creative presence and penetrating runs of Eisfeld. He is another for whom the U-21s is looking slightly asinine for his abilities.
DAMIAN MARTINEZ- The Argentine keeper has seen a window open with injuries to Szczesny and Fabianski. Mannone is first choice for now and unlikely to be risked on Wednesday. Due to UEFA squad rules, Martinez missed out on being on the bench in Southern France, but he`s been the back up for domestic assignments and will surely be given his head. Martinez is highly rated as a long term challenger to Szczesny`s crown within the Arsenal set up. It`s suggested that Arsene`s reticence to buy experienced back up is in part informed by his impressions of Martinez. Damian will want to show that faith is not misplaced.
THE NAUGHTY STEP
Three players who are likely to run out almost shame faced, but keen to prove that they should be nuzzled back into Arsene`s bosom once more for more senior duties.
ANDRE SANTOS- Arsene has made a clear determination that Kieran Gibbs is his first choice left back. Much as I like Santos, you can hardly say he`s been incorrect to do so thus far. The only action the cuddly Brazilian has seen this season has been a few minutes as a sub at Anfield. Santos will want to again show the sort of dynamism from left back which was cruelly curtailed by injury last December. It`s probably no secret Gibbs has been preferred because he is seen as a tighter defensive option in Arsenal`s new look compactness. Santos will want to show he can defend just as well as Gibbs has thus far.
THEO WALCOTT- Whether or not Arsene will say, "Go on then son, prove you can play upfront" and give him a shot as a centre forward tomorrow night, or whether he reverts to his natural position. Walcott will likely see it as a drop in status to play. Whilst contract wrangles have been used to explain away his current exile, the simple truth is that Theo has also suffered in Arsenal`s new, more disciplined outlook. If you`re looking for tactical flexibility, a keen sense of off the ball responsibility and a possession based style, Theo Walcott will be less use to you than the mascot. If he plays on the right, he will need to remind his manager of his bombastic qualities as well as demonstrating a new found maturity. If he plays upfront, he`s going to need to convince his manager he`s a £100k a week centre forward. Good luck Theo.
JOHAN DJOUROU- Could captain the side despite the fact that, so far, he`s only seen so much as a subs bench once this season. Arsene pointedly gushed this weekend over his "three class centre backs" which might have stung Johan`s pride somewhat. Arsenal have the biggest centre half selection conundrum they have faced since the days that Adams, Bould and Keown were in their mutual prime. Djourou`s biggest challenge is reminding people that he still exists, not least his manager. With the Gunners threatening to look mean at the back, getting the run around from a couple of League One strikers would probably be terminal for Johan`s short term chances of recognition.
Putting my neck on the line, this is my predicted squad for Wednesday:
Starting: Martinez, Yennaris, Djourou, Squillaci, A.Santos, Eastmond, Coquelin, Eisfeld, Walcott, Arshavin, Chamakh. SUBS: Gnabry, Shea, Bellerin, Jebb, Watt, Miquel, Meade.