Tonight Arsenal host Doncaster in the Copacabana Cup, or something like that. I think it is title sponsor of the Football League Cup. Which in turn is the re-brand of the League Cup.
As always, Arsenal will use the League Cup as a chance to give youngster a chance, as well as give the senior pro’s a run out. It perhaps shows the strength of Arsenal’s Premier League squad these days in comparison to 10 years ago that the side will probably now have more senior pro’s than youngsters.
There was a time, in the mid 00’s, when the majority of our second string were teenagers, or under 23. These days, nearly everyone in the second XI is a senior international.
It leaves Arsene Wenger with a bit of a conundrum. Does he disregard the senior squad players and give a run out to a load of U23’s, or does he give the proper second string a full 90 minute run out to ensure they are match sharp and ready to come into the first team if needed?
The reality is we will probably see a mix of the two. Half the team will be senior pro’s, the other half youngsters who are looking to step up to the first team squad. A bit like the side that face Koln last week, and that will probably be put out for most of the Europa League games.
The first conundrum will be who plays in goal. Will it be David Ospina, the Columbian international, 2nd choice keeper, first choice cup keeper. Arsenal.com shows just two first choice keepers, so it is only logical that Ospina will start.
However, in the past, Wenger has disregarded the 2nd choice keeper and given the 3rd choice one a run out in the League Cup. If memory serves me right, Emilio Martinez played in the League Cup last year. That might mean a call up for Matt Macey, the 23 year old Englishman who has found himself in the bench in a couple games in 2017.
Against Koln, Wenger opted for Nacho Monreal on the left of the back 3. This was clearly to give him more game time, to get him accustomed to the new position. One which he has actually performed well in. However, I would prefer he was moved to one side for the League Cup game. There is not much he can learn against Doncaster.
Instead of Monreal, let’s see Rob Holding play on the left side of the 3. Inside him Per Mertesacker and on the right Calum Chambers. I really like Chambers, and think he has been unfairly treated at times at Arsenal. I would like to see him get a good run in the side in both the League Cup and Europa League.
At right full back, Arsenal do have a little issue. Mathieu Debuchy surely would have got a run out against Koln, but his pre-match comments saw him promptly dropped. I do not expect him to get a chance in the League Cup either. That means Arsenal either stick with Hector Bellerin, or give one of the youngsters a chance.
Concerned about burn-out, Bellerin will not play (he was a surprise starter against Koln. Clearly a last minute decision). Having played at right wing back pre-season, Reiss Nelson will surely be given his chance to impress.
Whilst Nelson plays much more advanced for the youth team, he will have to accept a bit more of a defensive role in the current set up. Against Doncaster, however, he should not be doing much defending.
His opposing wing back position will be Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
I am a little concerned with the development of Maitland-Niles. He is a talented kid who in the youths played central midfield, then when on loan on the wings. Pre-season he was at centre back, against Koln he played left wing back.
Wenger and the coaching team need to decide on his best position, and play him there. Personally, I think he is a central midfielder, but with senior players in need of match sharpness set to start in the middle of the park, he will find himself out wide for the forceable.
In the middle of the park, Mohamed Elneny will be the senior pro. With Francis Coquelin out, Wenger might be tempted to rest Elneny, as he can not afford more injuries in the middle of the park. On the flip side, Elneny needs the match sharpness. No point not playing him ,then when he is called upon he is match rusty.
Alongside him will hopefully be Jack Wilshere as the no-longer-Arsenal-youngster continues his rehabilitation back into the first team.
Wilshere looked sharp and bright in his cameo against Koln. The more games he plays, the more minutes under his belt, before Christmas, the better position he will be in to fully help the first team as winter hits.
Alex Iwobi would have been a shoe-in for the playmaker position behind the strikers. But having played most of the game against Chelsea, he has earnt himself a rest.
Instead of Iwobi, Alexis Sanchez will surely get a full 90 minutes.
Having missed the first two weeks of the season out injured, Arsenal have taken their time with the Chilean.
He played 15 minutes against Bournemouth, a full 90 minutes against Koln, and 24 minutes against Chelsea. With Arsenal not playing WBA until Monday, a full 90 minutes against Doncaster will prepare him to return to the starting XI for the Premier League 5 days later.
Ahead / alongside Sanchez will be Theo Walcott. He needs some game time, and is struggling to fit in to the new formation. Whilst some will prefer to see the likes of Eddie Nketiah or Joe Willock (or is it Chris still with us?) get a run out. But this is one of those situations where the match sharpness of a senior player is more important than the development of a youngster.
Likewise, up top, Olivier Grioud will surely also start. Like with the Walcott situation, the likes of Nketiah and Akpom might feel a bit miffed that they will not get a run out, but Giroud needs to play. The best Plan B in Europe, making him Plan A in the Europa League and League Cup will ensure he is sharp.
Get the balance of the time right and Arsenal could end up at Wembley. Get it wrong and we could end up in another Sheffield Wednesday away embarrassment.
So my team to face Doncaster:
Chambers Mertesacker Holding
Nelson Elneny Wilshere Maitlan-Niles