Arsenal travel to St James Park for a League Cup tie for the first time. The three previous meetings between the two sides have all taken place in London, Newcastle yet to find a response to the eight Arsenal goals they have conceded. Indeed, you have to go back to a cold December evening in 2001 for their last victory in any competition when Graham Poll’s influence over proceedings was less than benign. Those looking for omens might seek solace in knowing Newcastle have not triumphed in an October fixture with Arsenal since a 7-0 thrashing handed out in 1925; tonight’s visitors have won eleven and drawn the remaining four in the interim, conceding in only six of those games.
Arsene responded to ‘enquiries’ at the recent AGM that all competitions were being treated seriously, all to be won. A sea-change we are told, a change of policy, something different for the League Cup’s most disrespectful manager. Wenger, no matter what he may publicly opine, could do without this tournament. He would far prefer to have the players on the training pitch, working on the positives from Sunday as well as the negatives.
The benefit to his squad members who are on the fringes outweight this though. They get a runout against decent opposition in the second consecutive away tie this season. A chance for the walking wounded to morph into the running fit; a chance for redemption for others. A chance for everyone to be more ready for the first team if called upon, better prepared than a time spent twiddling their thumbs.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas is one of those. Arsene may have heard his knocking and until now, he hasn’t let him in. The manager noted though, that the youngster was trying to kick down the doors. JET has been on the fringes of the first team for a couple of seasons and his form for the reserves this campaign suggests that he may have outgrown that level. Being naturally left-footed puts him at an immediate advantage, allowing movement across the frontline with confidence. It is this which Thomas believes that has improved this season, reading the game. Whether he starts tonight is another matter.
I suspect Wenger is going to look to go with Vela, Bendtner and Walcott as his starting trio. Bendtner and Walcott need match time following injuries whilst Vela is back in favour this evening. Whether it is for tonight only remains to be seen. Wenger intimated yesterday that there had been an injury, perhaps a slight niggle but possibly he may have been paying a price for indiscretions on international duty. Who knows, another interesting chapter in the Wenger’s book when he eventually writes it.
One person definitely starting tonight is Wojciech Szczesny. It seems that Manuel Almunia has not fully recovered and will be on the bench. For the young Pole, this is a real opportunity to prove the hype is not misguided or unfounded. No pressure then. A competitive match is entirely different to pre-season friendlies and many believe that the current pecking order is the one that should exist anyway; a remarkable turnaround for Fabianski to be in Pole position. Arsene was a tad disingenuous in his praise for the trio; if his faith was truly unshakable, he would not have bid for Mark Schwarzer in the summer.
Welcomed back into the defensive fold is Laurent Koscielny, recovered from his knack as is Havard Nordtveit and I wonder if that is the central pairing we will see. Whilst the Norwegian can play at full back, that would mean Eboue further up the pitch and I do not believe that is going to happen with Walcott’s rehabilitation being given the perfect opportunity to continue. Johan Djourou might take his place on the bench as cover but Wenger will surely have half an eye on West Ham and want to rest Squillaci as well just in case of a relapse to his compatriot.
Otherwise shuffling the pack will be the order of the day. Gibbs will no doubt appear in place of Clichy whilst Song and Fabregas will drop out of midfield, allowing Denilson and Lansbury to push their claims for first team action on a more regular basis. Partnering them should be Tomas Rosicky, probably captaining the side as well. The line-up I would expect is:
Szczsney; Eboue, Nordtveit, Koscielny, Gibbs; Lansbury, Denilson, Rosicky; Vela, Bendtner, Walcott
With a bench of:
Almunia, Sagna, Djourou, Eastmond, Nasri, Fabregas, Emmanuel-Thomas
The team fielded is a typical Wenger Carling Cup side; youth mixed with experience. Except the youth has plenty of experience and should be favourites to win tonight and the competition. A tough tie is ahead, Newcastle’s win at Chelsea should not be underestimated but it contained a number of positives for Arsenal, most notably their willingness to concede goals.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching. ’til Tomorrow.