28th October 2015: Mishmash Arsenal take night off at Hillsborough. Oh well

Welcome back. So we went to Wednesday on Tuesday and were comprehensively beaten 3-0 to end Arsene Wenger’s hopes of a first-ever League Cup for another campaign.

I’ll be honest, as much as I hate seeing Arsenal lose against anyone, in any competition, at any time, I was struggling to give much of a f*ck at full-time last night.

Not because I think the competition is not worth winning, because all trophies are in my opinion, particularly one we haven’t lifted since, funnily enough, beating Sheffield Wednesday 22 years ago.

But because our current priorities are the Premier League and Champions League and the fact most of our best emerging talents are out on loan and we have several first-team players out injured means we have to be sensible with our selection at the moment.

I’m fairly certain that if everyone was fit, we’d have seen the likes of Mikel Arteta, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky playing last night and I’d wager it would have been a very different game with a very different end result.

But everyone isn’t fit of course, and so I think Arsene had no option but to blood academy players such as Glen Kamara and Alex Iwobi last night, even if he had to admit after the game that the youngsters were not ready for this level.

I actually thought Arsene’s assessment was a little harsh on Iwobi, but spot on in terms of Kamara. As for poor young Ismael Bennacer, he looks about 12 years old, and when he was thrust into action as a substitute for Theo Walcott after just 20 minutes, played like he was 12 years old. A bit like Iwobi however, I thought Krystian Bielik, the fourth and final Arsenal debutant on the night, didn’t look out of his depth.

All that said, the match may have turned out very differently, even with a patched up side containing very inexperienced players, had we not suffered a double injury blow at the start of the game. First, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain felt a tightness in his hamstring with just four minutes played and was taken off as a precaution with Walcott, who had no time to warm up, replacing him.

That lack of preparation time for Theo proved disastrous as he felt something in his calf and was forced off himself to be replaced by Bennacer. The hosts went on to score three times, aided and abetted by what I can only describe as quarter-arsed defending by Arsenal. It wasn’t so much that we defended badly I felt, but that we just didn’t defend.

On their first goal for example, Per Mertesacker didn’t attempt to block the shot even though he was perfectly positioned and could have executed it in his sleep and for their third goal, having seen an unmarked opponent loitering in space at the back post, Per simply ignored the potential threat.

I know people are quick to say ‘well done’ to lower-league sides achieving giant killings but at the same time I think we should’t be patronizing. This was no Wrexham. It was a decent Championship team beating an Arsenal XI comprising of toddlers and first-teamers who didn’t even try to disguise their lack of appetite for the game. Anyway, well done to Sheffield Wednesday for beating us and I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the competition. I really mean it.

The biggest concern from the night for us however wasn’t elimination, it was the loss of two players to injury. The fact they were both candidates to cover for the injured Aaron Ramsey on the right obviously makes it worse because the only options we have, if they both fail to recover by Saturday for the game at Swansea, would appear to be Joel Campbell, or playing another player out of position.

Yet there’s little point in speculating what Arsene would do until the extent of the injuries to Walcott and the Ox are known and hopefully we’ll get a positive update from the boss tomorrow.

See you then.

27th October 2015: Capital One Cup Preview – Test of squad depth at Hillsborough

Evening all. It’s match-day again as we travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup this evening looking to win our fifth straight game in all competitions.

The League Cup is of course the only domestic trophy Arsene Wenger is yet to win, despite having reached the final on two occasions in 2007 and 2011, and the boss is not taking tonight’s opponents lightly despite them playing a league lower in the Championship. He said:

They are a team who have just won at Rotherham. I watched the game and they have good, tall strikers. They have Barry Bannan who has played in the Premier League and they look to have a very compact team who are at a very good technical level. They have a strong team spirit so they will certainly work to create difficulties for us and I’m sure they have the quality to do that. We have to respond with a top-level performance.

I have to admit I know next to nothing about The Owls’ current team but the fact they sit ninth in the second tier of the English game suggests they will be tough opponents, particularly on home turf.

Arsene mentioned Barry Bannan above and looking through their squad list, he’s the only player I can recall watching. He’s a diminutive, left-footed passer primarily, but past his Premier League-level best and should prove no match for Zinedine Flamini in the middle of the park.

Tonight’s encounter will be the 126th meeting between the sides with Arsenal having won 55 and drawn 35. Those old enough will remember us beating Wednesday in both domestic cup finals at the end of the 1992-93 season when the sides were far more evenly matched than today, and we’ve won all five of our League Cup meetings to date.

The Owls’ current manager, the Portuguese Carlos Carvalhal, who’s coached the likes of Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas in his career, gives his side just a 1 in 10 chance of causing an upset this evening. Speaking to BBC Radio Sheffield, he said:

We will fight for the whole match and we will be competitive. It will be interesting to see how it goes. We have probably a 10% chance of getting through. It is not very much but it is better than zero. Zero means you can do nothing, 10% means we will have 10% of the chances and we have to grab them.

Carvalhal also praised The Gunners, calling us one of the best teams in the world and highlighting our superb, recent run of form, saying:

It will be a fantastic day and it will make people remember the past and we hope games like this can be normal for us in the future. We are playing one of the best teams in the world. I think they have scored 18 goals in their last six games and that includes games against Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

Having discussed how we might line-up tonight in yesterday’s post, I won’t go over it again but it’s clear Arsene will be making wholesale changes to the team that started Saturday’s win over Everton with Joel Campbell almost certain to be handed a rare start.

Th Costa Rican hasn’t been afforded much game time with the Gunners but when he has played, hasn’t looked out of his depth at all in my opinion. On the other hand he hasn’t forced the manager to pick him more regularly by coming up with a goal or even an assist but given his lack of minutes, that’s hardly surprising.

Arsene clearly rates the player though, and has been discussing Campbell’s strengths as well as praising his professionalism, saying:

I like Joel Campbell very much for two reasons. One is that he has outstanding individual quality, but he is also a team player. He works very hard for the team. I’m convinced he will get a chance here and that he will take it. He has another opportunity against Sheffield Wednesday and I’m hopeful that he will show that he has the quality to play for Arsenal. When you get the chance, you have to be ready. To be ready, you have to prepare. I must say that Joel Campbell and Calum Chambers are two players who do absolutely everything right. They are prepared, the preparation they have created will give them the confidence against Sheffield Wednesday and I’m confident they will play well.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struggling for form and Aaron Ramsey out injured, Campbell could conceivably force his way into our first-choice starting 11 in the coming weeks.

But to do so, he’ll have to start making decisive, or at least eye-catching, contributions whenever he’s given a chance to play. Tonight would clearly be a great time for him to do just that.

Back tomorrow.

COYG!

26th October 2015: Thoughts on team selection against Sheffield Wednesday

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. We travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup tomorrow evening of course, and Arsene Wenger has revealed the latest team news ahead of the game.

Per Mertesacker is available again after missing the win over Everton through illness, but Mikel Arteta remains sidelined along with Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck.

With our second-choice ‘keeper David Ospina also still nursing a shoulder injury, Arsene confirmed that Petr Cech would play against the Owls. All of which means we seem a bit stretched if we want to rest the majority of our first-choice, outfield players in preparation for Saturday’s tricky trip to Swansea.

If we assume Mertesacker and Chambers will form the central defensive pairing and be flanked by Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs, we look solid enough at the back, particularly with Cech in goal behind them.

But further forward things become a little more unclear in terms of who starts. Mathieu Flamini will deputise for compatriot Francis Coquelin you’d have thought, but his partner in central midfield in the last round of the competition at Tottenham, Arteta, is unavailable and there is no obvious candidate to step in if we rest Santi Cazorla as surely we ought to, given the Spaniard’s recent exertions and crucial role in our team.

My preference would be for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be given a go centrally alongside Flamini if there isn’t a youngster deemed ready to step up. A change of position may actually be just what the Ox needs at the moment, given his struggles on the right so far this season as I discussed in yesterday’s post. A more central role would no doubt see him far more involved, enjoy more possession and hopefully facilitate him regaining some much-needed confidence.

That said, we’d then have one fewer option for the three positions behind the striker. Against Spurs, we played the Ox from the left, Ramsey in the middle and Joel Campbell on the right. So even if we draft in say, Alex Iwobi to play on the left, with Ramsey unavailable we have a vacancy behind, I’m assuming Theo Walcott, given the fact he didn’t play against Everton.

Arsenal academy expert Jeorge Bird’s ‘possible team’ on his blog has the same line-up I’ve suggested above, but with Glenn Kamara partnering Flamini in front of the defence, Ben Sheaf operating in the Mesut Ozil role behind Walcott, and the Ox spared a start.

I have to admit I’ve never seen either Kamara or Sheaf play and considering the Ox’s relatively modest number of minutes played so far this season, would be a bit surprised to see him left out even if he’s currently part of our first-choice selection.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see but a first glimpse this season of one or more of our academy prospects seems certain, and as somebody who enjoys appraising fresh, emerging talent almost as much as a glittering, high-profile purchase, I for one am looking forward to tomorrow’s game just that little bit more.

Obviously some of our very best young hopefuls, like Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley are out on loan at the moment, but nonetheless it’ll be intriguing to see how the likes of Sheaf and Kamara fare against Championship opposition, not least because they may soon find themselves on loan in that division.

I’ll discuss the game at Hillsborough more in tomorrow’s preview but moving on for now and Arsenal were today fined by the FA for breaching certain regulations in relation to Chambers’ transfer from Southampton in the summer of 2014.

Apparently we dealt with an agent who wasn’t properly licensed but it seems it was a genuine oversight as opposed to a calculated flaunting of the rules and we move on, lessons learned and our procedures reviewed to rule out a repeat in the future.

Right, a bit brief but that’s all I have for today. Back pre-match tomorrow.

See you soon.