Preview – Arsenal v Coventry City: Gunners Likely To Mix And Match
Right, so after the small matter of Manchester City away and before the equally small matter of Chelsea at home comes Arsenal’s toughest test of the season so far, Coventry City in the Capital One Cup tonight.
Jokes aside and with due respect to the Sky Blues, the Gunners are firm favorites. It’s a difficult time for the visitors, manager Mark Robins is just a week old in the job and Coventry City are yet to register a victory after ten games this season. On top of that, they are on a dismal run of four successive defeats that have left them languishing one place off the bottom of the table. To make matters worse, David McGoldrick, their most impressive player is cup-tied while our own Conor Henderson, who’s on loan, is ineligible to play.
Statistically too, everything points to a Gunners victory. In the 16 years Arsene Wenger has been in charge, only twice has he tasted defeat to non-Premier League opponents in the League Cup. The last of those defeats came on a cold December evening in 2008 at the home of then Championship high-flyers Burnley.
That day Wilshere, Ramsey and Gibbs all started for Arsenal while Mannone, Coquelin and Frimpong were unused subs. If proof was required that domestic cup campaigns are ideal playgrounds for developing youngsters then these six are perfect examples – all of them an integral part of the first team squad nowadays. As in previous years, the manager will be keen to use the opportunity to not only gauge the development of Arsenal’s emerging talent but also to give these young footballers a taste of the big stage.
Among them, Damian Martinez will almost certainly start in goal as the Gunners aim to protect Mannone for Chelsea’s visit. The tall Argentine keeper is highly regarded and I’m really looking forward to seeing him play. Arsene Wenger has already stated that the likes of Yennaris, Miquel, Eastmond, Gnabry, Bellerin and Olsson could be involved. I would think Thomas Eisfeld and Kyle Ebecilio may also harbour hopes of making the team.
At the same time, Arsenal’s strong start has meant that many of the regular starters from last season are mere bystanders at the moment. Arsene will be keen to use some of these fringe members to keep them match fit, at the same time hoping to add experience to youthful exuberance. That’s the theory anyway.
Among the players on the periphery of the first team, Santos, Djourou and Coquelin are likely to feature while Chamakh should make the bench if he’s recovered from his mystery illness. The manager has also hinted that ‘football loving’ Arshavin could get a game and perhaps Sebastian Squillaci could also be called upon. It must be tough for these elder statesmen though, especially for Arshavin, relegated as he is to playing with the second string.
Emmanuel Frimpong could mark his return from knee injury tonight. Arsene confirmed that the combative midfielder will be on the bench and it’s possible he may be introduced in the latters stages of the match. The 20-year old leads a chain of Arsenal players regaining fitness and that bodes well for our immediate future.
Then there’s Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud and Walcott. All three have been involved to a lesser extent than they would like so all will be looking for an opportunity tonight. Among them, AOC should definitely start having played no part at Manchester City.
Walcott’s contract negotiations might be one reason for the Englishman’s limited appearances but at the same time, we have to acknowledge that even though Gervinho’s finishing has been atrocious, the Ivorian provides more creativity in attack and a higher work rate in defense compared to Theo. Nevertheless, the 23-year old’s sheer pace has the prospect of running Coventry ragged so he will most likely make the starting line-up.
Playing Giroud has advantages and disadvantages. The new boy is desperate to score and my view is that he won’t get a better opportunity to get the monkey off his back. An hour on the pitch would help the manager assess whether to play him against Chelsea and although Giroud has contributed to Arsenal’s success with his movement and link-up play, a £12m striker needs goals for confidence.
The other view is that if Giroud fails to score, it could dent the 26-year old’s confidence even further. This perspective has merit but even if the Frenchman’s goal drought were to continue, the time spent in the middle will surely help in the settling process.
The following tweet from Tim Stillman highlights another disadvantage, which is equally valid.
Would also stop him & the team playing their normal game & would degenerate into a 'let's get a goal for Giroud' exercise.—
Tim Stillman (@LittleDutchVA) September 25, 2012
Nevertheless, I expect Giroud to play. Because unlike in previous seasons, Arsene Wenger has more depth in squad and the manager’s primary objective will be to continue this fine run of form. The shock exits of Manchester City and Everton last night will make Arsene wary of tinkering too much and I fully expecting a strong-looking line-up at the start. If things go our way, some of the younger players can be introduced in the second half.
The personnel selected will also determine how Arsenal line up. Walcott wants to play as a central striker and if Arsene concurs then the Gunners could start in a 4-4-2 with Theo playing off Giroud’s shoulder. The issue I have with that scenario is that it’s unlikely to be a strategy that Arsene will adopt in the Premier League so it depends on how experimentative the manager wishes to be tonight.
All things considered, my starting eleven would look something like this:
Yennaris – Djourou – Miquel – Santos
Gnabry – AOC – Coquelin – Arshavin
Walcott – Giroud
Subs: Shea – Bellerin – Eastmond – Frimpong – Olsson – Eisfeld – Chamakh (Watt)
Regardless of who starts, Arsene Wenger will be expecting his side to play with the hand brake off and secure passage to the fourth round. I am predicting an emphatic Gunners victory and by that I mean by three goals or more – with Olivier Giroud bagging a brace.
Enjoy the game.