After the disappointment of only managing a 0-0 draw at home to Middlesbrough on Saturday it’s EFL Cup action for Arsenal tomorrow night when they play at home to Reading. As competitions go the EFL Cup is at the bottom of the list of priorities, but that can change as the team progresses through the rounds. They had a comprehensive victory away to Championship side Forest in the last round and they play at home to another Championship side in this round.
The prize for the winner is a place in the quarter finals and it’s at that stage that Arsene Wenger might just decide to show a little more interest in the competition. For the moment though it’s a chance for the fringe players and reserves to get a run and show what they can do. It means we should see more or less all of the bench from Saturday get a run and a few of them will hopefully take the opportunity to impress.
At the moment I think there could quite easily be a case for Kieran Gibbs winning back his first team place as Nacho Monreal has struggled. If Gibbs can put in a good performance against Reading then he must surely have a chance of keeping his place against Sunderland next Saturday. It looks like the other full back will be Carl Jenkinson who will be making his return after a long term injury. It’s good to see him back and it means he will be the back up for Hector Bellerin should the case arise as Mathieu Debuchy seems to be “persona nor grata”.
We should also see both Rob Holding and Gabriel Paulista play in central defence and they are two more players who will be eager to make an impression. Holding did well when we had no option other than to play him at the start of the season, but the arrival of Shkodran Mustafi meant he became surplus to requirements in the first choice 11. He’s most definitely one for the future though and the early signs are we might have got a real bargain when we signed him from Bolton.
Gabriel missed out on his chance to impress at the start of the season when he picked up an injury and the arrival of Mustafi has seen his chances severely limited too. He would be regarded as the next best option at the moment if either Laurent Koscielny or Mustafi were injured or suspended and the game must surely do him some good. I had very high hopes for him when he arrived at the club, but he hasn’t progressed as much as we would have hoped and the form of Mustafi since his arrival won’t have done his chances much good.
With Petr Cech taking preference in goal in league games and David Ospina playing in the Champions League we should see Emiliano Martinez get a game. He played in the last round and kept a clean sheet even if he didn’t have an awful lot to do. He’s another one for the future and it’s good to see him get a chance like so many others.
In midfield I think we might see the same combination which we saw against Boro on Saturday with Santi Cazorla slightly injured and Granit Xhaka still suspended. It’s another chance for Francis Coquelin to stake a claim for a more permanent place in the team while Mohamed Elneny must surely be glad of another chance to play. He’s a player who seems to have dropped back in the pecking order despite impressing so much after he joined last January.
From what the boss has said we will also see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Lucas Perez in the team and that might just make up the starting 11. There’s a chance of Chamberlain dropping back to play alongside Elneny or Coquelin which would possibly see Chuba Akpom play as the central striker, but I think Lucas will be the man to play there. Ainsley Maitland-Niles played in defence in the last round, but he might have to sit on the bench tonight even though he took up that position on Saturday too.
It seems Olivier Giroud might be fit to return too, but I imagine he will be on the bench to start at least. We could have done with his attributes on Saturday when we couldn’t find a way through the Boro defence and it will be good to see him back in the fold. I’ve criticised him often enough in the past, but he still has plenty to offer the team.
All in all it’s a fairly strong team with a fair deal of youth and some experience too and they have every chance of progressing. I think Reading will give us a much closer run than Forest did in the last round, but a place in the last eight is certainly attainable. It’s a competition the boss has never won, but I don’t think he should be overly bothered about it.
Given a choice between progressing to the next round and winning at Sunderland on Saturday I know what I would opt for and I have no doubt he would choose the same. Of course there’s no reason why we can’t win both games and line up a quarter final game as well as keeping pace with the teams at the top of the table. If things don’t go our way tomorrow night I won’t be overly concerned and it won’t be a huge cause for celebration if we make the last eight either.
Of course I want the team to win and continue their unbeaten run in all competitions which stretches back to the second game of the season. A few impressive performances from players looking to get more first team game time wouldn’t go astray either and that’s certainly something we should be expecting. The most important thing though is for all the players to come through unscathed. I predicted a win on Saturday so I’ll keep my predictions to myself this time.