Welcome back. We play our third away game in a week when we travel the short distance across north London to take on Tottenham in the Capital One Cup tonight, and I’m fully expecting Arsene Wenger to make wholesale changes to our starting line-up.
The importance of a north London derby needs no hyping, regardless of which competition it’s played in and a win would obviously help lift the gloom engulfing the club after back to back defeats. Yet for me, Saturday’s game at Leicester is far bigger and if The Mirror’s probable team has any kind of inside information behind it, Arsene Wenger seems to think likewise.
They’ve suggested we may make eleven changes from the weekend and line-up as follows:
Debuchy, Mertesacker, Chambers, Gibbs;
Campbell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi;
If proved accurate, the selection would provide youngster Alex Iwobi with a chance to show his promising pre-season performances were no flash in the pan, as well put a lot of the creative burden on the Ox in Mesut Ozil’s usual position behind the striker.
I spoke about the Ox’s struggles after both the Newcastle game and the loss against Dinamo Zagreb, and couldn’t put my finger on why he was playing so badly in comparison to his exciting pre-season play. Arsene hinted the issue was a mental block when he spoke to Arsenal Player, saying the Ox must trust his own abilities more:
It is a massive season for Alex. He is at the age now where he is getting picked regularly for the national team. He is picked by me as well for the team. It is a very important season because of the nature he is growing. You feel the evolution has a sense of responsibility. I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must believe more in himself. He must believe more in his talent and that will help him develop as a player. I think sometimes he is too critical of himself. I would like him to play with the freedom and express the desire of his talent.
Looking back, some of the Ox’s best performances have come when he’s been deployed more centrally (I’m thinking AC Milan in the Champions League at Emirates stadium and Crystal Palace at home when he bagged a brace in a league match) and perhaps giving him a more central role tonight will see him more involved in the game, get more touches of the ball and help him rekindle the kind of form he’s shown he’s capable of.
Again, if the team above is the one we go with, only Iwobi really qualifies as an academy player given a chance to shine in a competition we’ve so often used to simultaneously blood numerous young players, in previous years. That’s largely down to most of our best kids being on loan at the moment and the boss further explained why he will opt for experience over youth this evening when he spoke to Arsenal Player:
It will affect it because at the moment the youth-team players, many of whom are ready to play for us, are away on loan. The next players who have the talent are not completely ready to play at that level. With the difficulty of the opponent as well, you do not want to throw them into a game where they look out of place. There are no fringe players [here], there is only a first-team squad. It is an opportunity for Arsenal to win an important game and for the players who play for the club to defend our club and qualify. Apart from that, we played with the team in Zagreb and we didn’t win, so we want to come back now and win our cup games because that’s vital for us.
One man who’s very likely to be rested from the start tonight is Theo Walcott and the England striker has been speaking about the intensity of north London derbies and explaining what makes them so special. He told Arsenal Player:
Local derbies at White Hart Lane are special. They are games that everyone wants to be part of and it’s most important now to get the right result, for the fans especially. At times it doesn’t matter how you play in these matches, you just [need to] get the result. People say the derby is now not as raw as it used to be, but trust me, a lot of the players know how big this is. Because it’s so loud at home and away, you just get a great buzz from it all. Any small error is picked up on straight away and you don’t want that to happen. When you hear the odd fan say stuff in the crowd, it just spurs you on. You just want to prove what they say [is] wrong. When you score, the emotions come out and you can see the emotions, especially in these matches. It means so much and we want to celebrate with the fans. We’re going to be completely on it, we have to be, and hopefully beat them at their place.
Whether it’s Theo or, as is more likely, Oliver Giroud, who leads our attack tonight, they’ll have to adapt pretty quickly to playing in front of a much-changed line-up, but I’m still confident we can click in time to take care of Tottenham. And after two defeats on the bounce and red cards in both those games, keeping our cool in what will undoubtedly be a hostile atmosphere is clearly vitally important.
I can’t wait.