The Carabao Cup returns for its’ short run in the Arsenal season and Nottingham Forest are the understudies hoping to be stars, if only for one night.
Unai Emery will shuffle his pack given we only played 48 hours ago. The gap between the two games is so short that even Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will get a rest.
It’s fair to question the relevance of the competition. Certainly, if UEFA gets their way, the League Cup as far as the Premier League clubs are concerned is toast. I have misgivings about both the structure UEFA and ECA propose but I have no love for the League Cup.
In years gone by, the competition meant something. When Ken went up and all that; it was a great afternoon at Wembley. It hurt twelve months later, as a cup final defeat should, even one which was relatively self-inflicted.
Now, the Carabao Cup barely rates a shrug of the shoulders. Years of neglect with even mediocre sides fielding second-string XIs signals the need for the cord to be cut. This badly patched-up boat must be freed of its’ riverbank moorings to allow it to drift into oblivion.
That said, tonight’s fixture serves a purpose. Bellerin, Tierney and Holding should all feature; the defence looks better already.
Dino Mavropanos, held in reserve, to work his way back into contention; time is on his side, to some extent, but given how poor Luiz and Sokratis’ performances have been this season, the younger Greek may think he is in contention for a run in the first-team proper at some point.
This is the positive – the one positive – about the League Cup. The warning signs for its’ future are there, however; France is ditching its’ equivalent. Inexorably, the top leagues are moving away from League Cups.
A Redemption Song?
As well as physical recuperation, reputations receive rehabilitation in good performances. Mesut Ozil will be hoping for that. From the World Cup starting line-up for his country to a place in the second XI at club level in fifteen months is a spectacular fall from grace.
Seventy-one minutes this season isn’t entirely his fault but even when the side is underperforming, Mesut isn’t considered an option. He didn’t even warrant mention post-match on Sunday.
The German needs a significant run of good form to bolster his faltering standing in the game. His next contract is going to fall far short of the mega-bucks he is earning now. “Earning” is used in a purely contractual sense. Nothing we’ve seen on the pitch warranted that kind of deal for some time.
Are we beyond that redemptive stage for Ozil already?
It comes down, in part, to pride, both personal and professional. Is Mesut a lamb or a fighter as far as his career is concerned? It’s obvious Emery doesn’t fancy him as a player, to use the footballing vernacular. It’s fight or flight for him; which will he choose?
Tonight, however, if selected, he needs to be a leader, to deliver. The Ozil of 2010 in South Africa had that in abundance as he tore England apart. Somewhere inside that light must still be flickering, surely? If not, why bother at all?
I wonder how that influences young players? Do they see him giving his all in training, someone to admire in fighting for his place or someone coasting, someone whose technique is unquestionable but whose desire is definitely just that.
Walk in the Park?
Expecting Forest to rollover is mad. The first XI is on a roll, up to fifth in the promotion race in the Championship and looking like delivering on the promise everyone thought they had for years. Will they want to take a break from that and rest key players?
I’m pretty confident that our younger players, mixed with experience, can stand toe-to-toe and dance a little better. Not cockily confident but we’ve seen enough down the years to know the sort of team we’ll field can stand their ground.
And get swallowed by it, let’s not forget. We’ve lost to teams we should have beaten and others we had no right to do so. It’s hit and miss but with a trip to Stoke on Friday night, I’m guessing Forest will make a few changes.
I’d expect our line-up to be something like;
Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Torreira, Ozil, Willock; Nelson, John-Jules, Martinelli
Changes galore on the hour mark with Chambers on for Bellerin and Mavropanos for Tierney, reverting to a back three, with Chambers in the middle of the park alongside Torreira.
I don’t know if that will happen. Unai, if nothing else, is a bit unpredictable in that sense.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.