29 October 2013

Chelsea league-cup preview

To go for the jugular or to play it closer to the vest? Tuesday's clash with Chelsea presents a high-profile match, at least on the surface, but what will we really see? In years past, we've crashed out to the likes of Bradford (despite fielding a very strong squad) and Birmingham, two clubs in lower divisions that nonetheless managed to pull off famous upsets. Which of the two was more devastating is hard to say; the loss to Birmingham happened in the final, of course, but the quarter-finals loss to Bradford might represent the largest upset in either club's history. It's with memories like these in mind that we go into Tuesday's match, one against a very different kind of club.

Squad-selection will, of course, be crucial. Jose Mourinho had this to say about the league cup after advancing to the fourth round back in September:
Probably my decision is that the under-21 team will have a very good experience to play in the Capital One Cup. We play Sunday against Man City, and we play Tuesday against Arsenal. When the people that decide the fixtures play us on the Tuesday after a Sunday match and Arsenal play on the Saturday (against Crystal Palace), it’s something that I have to accept, because I have no other option, but I have to prioritise.
Much as I hate to admit it, he has a point. Many of our players will have had one more day's rest than anyone who features for Chelsea. Then again, Chelsea has quite a bit of depth to draw on; between that and The Specious One's passive-aggressive mind-games, we'd do well to be on our guard. He's also suggested that he "has also to respect [Chelsea's] fans", which may mean that we'll see a number of first-team players like Mata, Torres, or Willian. A number of our players looked sluggish or jaded against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Whether that was down to the Eagles' poor form or our fitness is another matter for another day. While our quest for silverware has reached quixotic proportions, there are other considerations at play here. Looking down the road, we see a difficult gantlet of matches that includes a visit from Liverpool, a trip to Dortmund and to Man U, and a visit from Southampton (before you laugh, consider that they've conceded a mere three goals and sit 5th on the table).

Looking a bit further ahead, December sees us play seven matches in 31 days. Getting through the next two months, then, looks a bit tetchy. Come January, we have two choices of what to say to players looking to make a move: "we've advanced in the league cup!" or "we've advanced in the Champions League!" Without disparaging the league cup, we do have to prioritize. As much as I hate to admit it, I believe that we have to rotate. We didn't do it until we had to against Crystal Palace, and now we have little choice but to do so against Chelsea, regardless of their priorities. The good news is that we have a number of rested players who could still claim a first-team role, and so the dilemma isn't entirely unsolvable.

After all, a backline of Monreal, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, and Jenkinson is hardly factory-seconds. Keeper is somewhat less of an issue, fitness-wise, and I would much rather see an in-form Szczesny over Viviano or Fabianski.

It's in front of them that decisions get a bit dicier. Arteta is of course unavailable due to his red-card, and Flamini is out for a few weeks after injuring his groin. Why not summon Frimpong to pair with Ramsey? We could do worse. Frimpong may be raw, but he's had some first-team experience, and pairing him with the in-form Ramsey looks to be a stable compromise, given our scant resources. Hayden is available, but he's 18 and untested, so I'd prefer that he watch the match...

Ahead of them, Cazorla, Rosicky, and Gnabry offer a nice blend of creativity, flair, and work-rate. Gnabry has shown that he can provide some high-quality performance, creating chances at one end of the pitch and disrupting attacks at the other, and Rosicky, while not quite as sexy as Özil, has been known to make a thing or two happen when he's on. If nothing else, he's tireless. Cazorla, in addition to needing some match-time to get fit, can make a bit of noise of his own, and I rather fancy the idea of the three of them running at a Chelsea defense that looks increasingly creaky even if it does send out first-choices defenders. Bendtner is, well, Bendtner, but I maintain that we can get by with him even if his only contribution is to linger around the box to try to head down crossers, corners, and set-pieces. Giroud needs a rest at some point, and if it has to come on Tuesday, so be it.

Of course, I have no role in who gets named for either squad, so we'll have to wait and see. I don't think either manager rates this match very highly, but the rivalry between the two of them might prompt some interesting decisions, to say the least. It's hard to find a sharper contrast between managerial styles, whether it's Arsene's preference for developing players versus Mourinho's penchant for purchasing superstars, or it's Arsene's ability to maintain a low profile versus Mourinho's grandstanding. I reckon it'll be a barn-burner regardless of which players take to the pitch.

In other news, I'm proud to announce that this blog is one of six finalists in the Football Blogging Awards' "Best New Blog" category. I'm facing some stiff competition from some general-interest blogs that cover a little of everything: transfers-rumors, betting, etc. I'm hoping that Gooners will take a moment to vote:
Thanks, as always, for your visit. Let's hope for a victory over Chelsea that comes from some unexpected, here-to-fore rested players!

5 comments:

  1. Frimpong's injured. Pretty sure Szczesny will be rested.

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  2. Replies
    1. Frimpong injured his knee last February but looks fit; he played a full 90' for the U21 squad vs. Everton on 22 October. If he isn't unavailable, we might see Hayden, whom Arsene talked up a bit yesterday.

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  3. smash the filthy chavies, we can win the league cup easy after that, no one else will be left who can keep up!

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  4. what are u saying????

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