Arsenal v Brentford – Likely Starting XI

The first round (or 3rd round as it is) of the League Cup always makes interesting pre-game discussion over what sort of squad we will put it.

We know that it will not be a starting XI, as Unai Emery will shuffle his squad. But what sort of team will he put out?

In the past, Arsene Wenger used the early rounds of the competition to blood some youngsters. The likes of Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere cut their teeth in the competition. But this was in the days when first team squad did not carry as much depth – and the youngsters were pretty much the second string.

We are 6 games into the season and Unai Emery has kept his starting XI fairly steady with a core group of players – 10 have started at least 5 Premier League games.

As a result, the likes of Mohamed Elneny & Bernd Leno have yet to play a single Premier League minute, Danny Welbeck, Rob Holding & Stephan Lichtsteiner have yet to start a game, and Lucas Torreira and Alex Iwobi have started just 1 and 2 games respectively.

Whilst there will be calls for younger players to start; the likes of Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe and Emiliano Martinez, it is perhaps more important that we give the senior 2nd string players a start to ensure they remain match sharp.

It is those senior players who will step up for the core group of players Emery has used thus far, therefore we will surely see the League Cup (and the Europa League) as competitions used to keep the 2nd string fresh and sharp, rather than blood youth players. Of course, some youth team players will get minutes.

In goal I expect Bernd Leno  to start. With just 1 appearance to his name so far this season, he needs game time, he needs the opportunities to push Petr Cech.

Stephan Lichtsteiner will be at right back. A perfect example of keeping a senior player sharp rather than blooding a youngster.

Centre back is interesting.

Arsenal are currently without Laurent Koscielny and Kostadinos Mavropanos. You would certainly have expected the later to start alongside Rob Holding. Sokratis also picked up an injury at the weekend against Everton – it is only a dead leg so he should be back for Everton.

This leaves Arsenal with just two senior fit centre backs. Shkdoran Mustafi and the aforementioned Holding.

Does Emery take the risk and play one of them alongside Julio Pleguezuelo, knowing if one picks up a knock and Sokratis does not recover, it will results in the young Spaniard also starting against Watford?

I think Emery will take the risk, he will partner Rob Holding with Pleguezuelo, leaving Mustafi at home ready for the visit of Watford.

Back in full training, Saed Kolasinac will get his first taste of game time this season.

Moving into midfield, Mohamed Elneny will start. The other two central midfield places up for grabs.

Lucas Torreira has started just 1 Premier League game this season, whilst Matteo Guendouzi has started 5. However against Watford it was the Uruguayan who got in ahead of the Frenchman. I expect the same to happen against Watford on Saturday so it makes sense for Matteo Guendouzi to start alongside Elneny against Brentford.

Further forward in the midfield, I would not be surprised if Alex Iwobi plays more centrally than he has previously.

A lot will be calling for Joe Willock to get game time, but as explained it is more important that we keep Iwobi match sharp. He will be given the roving role that Aaron Ramsey plays so well.

By playing Iwobi centrally, it will give us the space to have Emile Smith Rowe one side and Danny Welbeck  the other.

Originally I had Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Smith Rowe playing behind Welbeck, but the Armenian is out injured. This leaves Emery with a choice.

Play Willock in the midfield, pushing Iwobi up higher and having Welbeck up top; or play Iwobi deeper, Welbeck out wide and Eddie Nketiah as the spearhead.

I think Emery will opt to play Eddie Nketiah as it feels like he is ahead of Willock in terms of development. Arsenal would also already be giving game time to Smith Rowe, who plays in a similar position to Willock, is younger and better (it would not surprise me if this is Willock’s last year at the club as Smith Rowe moves ahead of him).

So all in all, I expect a fairly senior team with Pleguezuelo, Smith Rowe and Nketiah given a run out.

As Manchester United showed last night – with a very strong side – these Championship teams are no pushovers, and Brentford are a decent outfit.

It will be interesting to see if Josh Dasilva gets any game time for the Bees.

He played 3 times for Arsenal last season in the League Cup, but opted to continue his career at a lower level this season in the hope of more game time.

A few at Arsenal were disappointed to see him go, but he has so far struggled to break through at Brentford. Guendouzi is 6 months younger than Dasilva and ha started 5 Premier League games this season. That does not mean that Dasilva will not become a good players, but he is clearly not ready to be playing in the Premier League. It also highlights just how good a prospect Guendouzi is.

Last night during the Manchester United v Derby game, the commentators were talking up Mason Mount.

The 19-year old on loan Chelsea player is considered to be their best prospect since Josh McEachran (what happened to him?) and the commentators were labelling him as the best young English central midfielder, even calling for him to be called up to the next England squad.

He had a good game, and is clearly a prospect, but again he is older than Guendouzi.

The fact that people no longer look at Guendouzi as a 19-year old in his first season in top flight football (whilst Mount is playing 2nd division) is testament to his ability.

We now look at Guendouzi as an established senior player. If any of Granit Xhaka, Torreira or Aaron Ramsey are out injured, it will be Guendouzi who steps up. And as he has shown this season, he is ready.

Guendouzi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles will make it tough for any young Arsenal central midfielder to make a break through. The likes of Charlie Gilmour and Ben Sheaf will struggle to get any game time in senior competitions this year. Add in Willock and Kelechi Nwakali and for any of these to break into the Arsenal first team, they are going to have to be borderline Cesc Fabregas / Jack Wilshere talent.

All that bodes well for the future, especially with Torreira being just 22.

I actually look forward to the Europa League to see Guendouzi and Maitland-Niles (once fit) forge a partnership.

Enjoy the game tonight, and remember there is no Piccadilly Line tonight.

Up The Arsenal.


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