The only domestic trophy that has eluded Arsenal under Wenger’s reign is back in action this week, following a run of three games without a win, two without a goal and arguably the teams worst performance since, well, West Ham visited Highbury in February.
It is a competition that has ranked low on Wenger’s radar thus far and given the general state of the team at the weekend in terms of fatigue, I see no reason for that to change tonight. The squad that has been named for the match is as follows:
Almunia, Poom; Connolly, Eboue, Senderos, Djourou, Hoyte, O’Cearuill, Traore, Clichy; Flamini, Song, Denilson, Simpson, Randall; Walcott, Adebayor, Aliadiere
So pretty much as expected, a reserve squad has been announced. With that in mind and the fixtures facing the first XI over the next six weeks, basically playing two games each week in that period, I would expect the starting XI to be:
Almunia; Eboue, Djourou, Senderos, Traore; Walcott, Song, Denilson, Flamini; Aliadiere; Adebayour
This is recognition of the fact that the team on Sunday looked shot although I am surprised at the omission of Gilberto and Toure; presumably the Brazilians and Ivorians have games next week that are not in continental Europe. It is positive in that Arsene knows that the first XI is stretched to breaking point with the currnet injuries to Ljungberg and Baptista although I suspect I would not be the only one excessively hacked off if they turn out on International Duty next week. That said, it is a game I cannot see a win coming from with that particular line-up given that Everton have named an almost full strength squad. The reality is that this is truly a match for the younger players to gain experience, even a drubbing will give Arsene a true idea of the progress that these players have made and have to make.
The team will be defending a good record against Everton in this competition, unbeaten by the Liverpudlians in thirty plus years. And after all, who can forget the 1988 semi-final. It is a real memory of the North Bank; 55,00 crammed into the ground. The North Bank was absolutely heaving, a good win following on from Perry Groves winner at Goodison in the first leg. I spotted a friend about 20 yards from where we were standing; it took an hour for us to get close enough to chat. A great night.
As you can guess though, I am not optimistic about tonight’s match but that is not on current form, merely a recognition that Everton’s first XI ought to be able to comfortably beat our reserves despite the inclusion of some regulars, albeit ones returning from injury. My prediction? A 1 – 3 defeat, perhaps after extra time to salvage some pride.