At the end of September, had you asked me how seriously we should take the League Cup, the answer would have been simple. Very.
Having lost the first 2 Champions League games of the season, and with home and away ties against Bayern Munich coming up, you could, and many did, write off our chances of qualifying for the knockout stages for the Champions League.
We were also sitting 3 points behind Manchester City in the league, a gap which had been reduced from 5 in the last game week of the month.
City looked to be running away with the title and our Champions League hopes were slim to none.
The League Cup, usually bottom of our priorities, was looking to be very important. A winnable trophy in what was looking at a disappointing season on the other two fronts. We had recently beaten Spurs, and a draw against favourable draw against Sheffield Wednesday meant that a Quarter Final place was very much on the cards.
At the time, I would have been happy playing our strongest 11 against Sheffield Wednesday.
Roll on a month and our priorities have changed quickly.
A perfect October has seen us with a 100% record for the month. Add in the victory against Leicester at the end of September and Arsenal are on a run of 4 Premier League wins in a row, sitting top of the league alongside City, and back in the race for qualification for the Champions League after a victory against Bayern Munich.
Suddenly, the tie against Sheffield Wednesday is no longer as important as it was.
Sheffield Wednesday will be our 4th game in 9 days, and is half way through an intensive run of 7 games in 22 days. Add in the International break, it has been a tough schedule for our players.
8 players have started all 3 games so far. And against Everton – the 3rd game in 7 days – we saw some tiredness creeping in towards the last 20 minutes.
We have already lost Aaron Ramsey to a hamstring injury caused, by Wenger’s own admission, to over playing. It is hard for a manager to decide when to rest a player. Wenger admitted that he considered resting Ramsey for Munich. But resting your player who covers the most ground in a match where you plan to not have much possession would have been suicidal. Ramsey had to play, and we paid the price.
With what we have coming up. It is important to shuffle the pack. Give those players who have played all the games so far a mid week break. Recharge their batteries for what are now more important battles ahead. Swansea away, Munich away, and then Spurs at home. We need to make sure our key players do not pick up injuries, that over playing does not cost us a title challenge like it has done in previous years.
Cech, Koscielny, Monreal, Bellerin, Coquelin, Ozil, Cazorla & Sanchez. Those are the 8 who have started every game. They should be no where near the match day squad for Tuesday. (note: I see Wenger has said Cech will play. He is a goal keeper, so doesn’t need as much as a rest).
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud have also played in all 3 of the last 3 games, but for two of those 3, came off the bench.
Oxlade-Chamberlain looked rusty at the weekend. He needs to get some game time under his belt. A full 90 minutes against Wednesday, will do him the world of good, and rebuild his confidence. He must start.
As must Giroud. With Walcott and himself seemingly rotating depending on the opposition, it is more likely that Walcott will start away to Swansea this weekend and in Munich, that leaves him as being very important over the next few games. So a 10 day rest for Walcott will be him the world of good.
Personally, I would put out the following 11 tomorrow:
Debuchy Mertesacker Gabriel Gibbs
Iwobi Chamberlain Campbell
At the beginning of the month, I would of said play the strongest 11 against Sheffield Wednesday, and shuffle the pack for the Munich game. Now, circumstances of our own creating, means that should be reversed. The League Cup is back to being 4th priority. We must rest the key players for it, giving us the best chance to complete our perfect October and continue our roll into November up until the next international break.