Carling Cup quarter finals is the match for Arsenal tonight and Wigan are the visitors. For so many seasons, this competition represents the gateway to the future of Arsenal. That however has changed this season. Whether it is down to the fact that we’ve gone 5 years without a trophy or it is just the make-up of the squad that simply makes it look unexpectedly strong, Arsene Wenger seems to have a little more interest in this competition than usual.
The pre-match press conference showed nothing other than those that we already knew, except maybe in the case of Emmanuel Eboue. Suspected to have damaged his ligament against Braga a week ago and expected to be out for at least a month, he has somehow miraculously recovered and is in line for a start tonight. That being the case, here’s who I think will start tonight;
The biggest question would probably be the goalkeeping place. Does it go to a returning Manuel Almunia or does Wojciech Szczesny get another chance to show his that he is a worthy back-up keeper to presumably our current no 1, Lukasz Fabianski. This has been a topic of discussion since before the start of the season.
As Fabianski seemed to have settled down and showed more confidence in goal, the debate turns to his back-up. As much as I value Almunia’s contribution to Arsenal and he has been a loyal servant, never a bad word about the club even though it has been fairly obvious that Wenger was looking to replace him over the summer, the chance has to be given to the younger custodian now.
I’m sure that midfield line-up does not fill you with much confidence, neither am I. It looks a little lightweight to be perfectly honest. Craig Eastmond has not exactly continued his growth from last season. Whereas he seemed assured and not look out of place when given playing time last season, this season has been the exact opposite. His chances to become a regular in the side looks slimmer by every passing match when his rival for that position, Francis Coquelin has been getting good reviews from his displays on loan with Lorient.
Up front, the attacking triumvirate should fill the slots themselves. Theo Walcott, Robin Van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner were all un-used substitutes in the Aston Villa game and would most probably start tonight. Fitting RvP and Bendtner in the same side means a reshuffling is required. As Walcott looks less threatening on the left, the role on the right is the best spot for him. That would mean shifting RvP out wide left, in a role which is not entirely alien to him, having played there for Holland, Feyenoord as well as his early days for Arsenal.
With Marouane Chamakh scoring goals and thus making it hard for Wenger to drop him, the trio of attackers will have to up their game and show that they are not only plan B. You do feel for RvP in the sense that he is the first choice striker at the start of the season and that the culmination of the World Cup finals and his injury has somewhat changed that perception.
Some quarters are now questioning whether Arsenal still need an injury-prone striker who may never play 40 – 50 games a season. You just have to look at his contribution at White Hart Lane last season if you require any confirmation of the quality he possesses. How do we fit RvP and Chamakh in the same team is something which needs a lot of thinking. Luckily for us, that job falls in the hands of Wenger and all we can hope is that RvP gets a real good run of games and avoid injuries. I would not want to regret selling him only to see that his injury days are over and he flourishes for his new club.
Another player who could’ve played tonight but is not is Aaron Ramsey. Good news is that yesterday he completed 30 minutes for Nottingham Forest and from what I gathered, no complications were to be found. There’s another 7 or 8 games left for him to play for Forest before returning to us in January next year. Already, I can sense that he is mentally stronger than maybe Eduardo or even Abou Diaby.
Wigan under Roberto Martinez have the same kind of footballing philosophy as Arsenal and to that extend, an open attacking game is as much as we can expect. Charles N’Zogbia is obviously the main danger and there are a couple of other fast players in Wigan’s ranks. Though, I would be very disappointed if we were to lose this home match. I still remember the semifinal game which we lost at home to the same opponent some years ago at Highbury. RvP scored a beautiful freekick that night and I would gladly accept that tonight.
Here’s to a good game. Enjoy wherever you’re watching.