Let’s Gedion: Arsenal vs Chelsea preview and thoughts
Today is a match at a bad time, against an annoying opponent, at the start of a tiring and difficult run. And yet I am massively excited. What I want to ask in this match preview, is what eleven we should be playing, and really, how important is it to win today?
To me the Capital One Cup (money now, please) is really more of an aside and a nuisance than a competition to be focussing on. In past years, when we could field an entire team of young talent against Championship opposition, it was fun, but midweek before the most important week of the season, against a Chelsea side managed by an absolute tool of a human being, it loses much of the appeal. Sure, a home game against Chelsea is prestigious and exciting, but with an injury list as long as Petit’s ponytail, and a squad thin in numbers, it doesn’t come at an opportune time.
This summer, Wenger and his advisors decided that we had a squad with sufficient depth. And whilst I consider our creative midfield and our fullbacks to be amongst the strongest and deepest in English football, we lack numbers in deep midfield, central defence and the CF position. Whilst Gnabry, Zelalem, Bellerin, Akpom and Hayden are massively exciting, Chelsea is a big ask for them and behind them in the rankings are a bunch of players who, most likely, will never make it at the club.
Whereas we have three quality, experienced CBs, we have no talented 20 year old who will play cup competitions. We don’t have a young DM to rotate with Flamini and Arteta. For Wenger, a man never afraid to throw the talent (if you’re good enough, you’re old enough) into the deep end, this is an unusual situation, and one which, if I am honest, I consider to be a flaw in his summer (or recent) thinking.
Playing both Arteta and Flamini against Crystal Palace was, to me, a little bit too much. We cannot (nor do I) blame Wenger for Flamini getting injured but if you only have two DMs, playing both against significantly inferior opposition is just tempting fate. As such, today Isaac Hayden, who should be playing as CB next to Vermaelen, is likely to start as DM.
The rest of the team, in my mind, picks itself. Fabianski or Viviano to start in goal, Jenkinson and Monreal get some match rhythm at respective fullback positions, Vermaelen starts and captains and, alas, one of Mertesacker and Koscielny starts. In front of them Hayden anchors the midfield and hopefully we have Wilshere and Rosicky starting. That is a risk, with both players known to struggle with injuries, and playing an opposition known to be a bit niggly.
However, I consider Eisfeld not good enough and I think Zelalem is not fit enough to start. On the wings, Miyiaichi and Gnabry should start with the glorious hulking figure of Tony Soprano Nicklas Bendtner leading the line. Cazorla was awful against Palace and I would not mind him being given a 30 minute run out as a super sub, but considering we’d already play Rosicky and Wilshere, we need as many bodies fit for the fight with Liverpool.
Eisfeld, Akpom, Zelalem, Olsson or Bellerin are all excellent candidates for substitute appearances, and will relish the chance to perform on the big stage (a home game against Mourinho is a big stage, no matter how Mini Mouse the competition is) and show Wenger he should be thinking of them. Especially the idea of having Gedion Zelalem come off the bench excites me madly. His talent is incredible and even against Chelsea he can wreak havoc. Today would have been a great day to reintroduce Walcott, or to give some match rhythm to Podolski or Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alas.
Looking at my projected line-up (which, presumably, will be so far off the mark it may well be an Andros Townsend shot), you’d be forgiven for asking why so many of the players are not guaranteed starters in normal league games. We are, after all, playing Chelsea! Well, I consider the Capital One Cup (ka-ching) to be an absolutely useless trophy.
Most nations don’t have two cup competitions (France is an exception) and it is a phenomenal waste of time in a league already packed with hard matches, especially if you challenge on all fronts. With an injury raddled and already thin squad, going all out with strong XIs is extremely dangerous and no guarantee for victory. We might put out our best today, dominate possession, be profligate with chances and see two moments of Juan Mata magic undo us. We might also win, but at the cost of two more ‘red zone’ injuries. And if we do win, that brings us only one round further in a competition a few other strong teams want to win too.
With the recent signing of Mesut Özil, and the recent form on the pitch, we have elevated ourselves beyond the sort of club that should be aiming to win the League Cup. I can understand Liverpool or Tottenham starting a full strength side, but our desperation for silverware (ANY SILVERWARE) should not be so big as to waste our real shot of a title.
Whilst I agree that success breeds success, and winning leads to experience of the winning mentality, this has no real historical basis, and it is not worth jeopardising our league momentum for. A win today would do a world of good. A loss today might be a bit of a blemish, but it would not destroy morale. A loss on Saturday might do that, however, and it would certainly hurt of title chances. Keeping as many essential players fit and fighting for Liverpool should be the priority, above anything else.
Anyway, knowing Mourinho he will have instilled in his side a siege mentality after the scheduling computer had them play Sunday late afternoon and us Saturday morning. As we all know, this was a blatant attempt by the FA to give Arsenal an unfair advantage.
Luckily, I consider Arsene Wenger a better manager, and if the home crowd gets behind the team, the aforementioned XI should be good enough to beat any Chelsea second string. I just hope we don’t get any more injuries. An injury to a key player is ten times worse than losing to Mourinho in a tiny competition where they field a stronger team. Winning isn’t always everything.
(*Article written before team news released)