A Tale of Two Teams

The Carling Cup is a showcase for Arsenal’s future stars … mostly

Sometimes life deals you a hand that’s unplayable. When it comes to blogging, a busy work week can be insurmountable. So I return to this space after another absence on the brink of our Carling Cup debut and I’m excited to see some of our younger stars get their chance. Last season’s best Arsenal performance was arguably the 6-0 dismantling of Sheffield United by the Carling Cup kids. Today should present a much stiffer test as in-form West Bromich Albion visit the Emirates.

Arsene Wenger confirmed has already confirmed some of the players who will participate in today’s match. It’s no surprise that Gibbs, Traore, Wilshere and Ramsey will all participate. Phillipe Senderos will make his return to the Arsenal lineup and should be under heavy pressure as it appears he will be partnered by Mikael Silvestre. This is a good chance for Senderos to see some competitive action and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wenger call on him for first team durty soon. Vermaelen and Gallas have been ubiquitous this season and I’m sure Arsene would love to get them each some well deserved rest. With some of the Premier League’s less formidable opposition on the schedule in the next few weeks, Senderson will likely start at center-half on a few occasions.

But the biggest team news for today’s match comes as something of a surprise. Apparently Carlos Vela will make his first appearance of the season after suffering an ankle injury on international duty over the summer. Vela was in torrid form for Mexico and we have all seen what he can do in the Carling Cup. He scored a sublime goal against Sheffield United in last year’s tournament and can’t be far from consideration for increased playing time with the first team.

I really believe that Vela’s return gives us the kind of player we’ve been missing on our bench. He’s someone who can come into the game in the second half and inject pace and creativity if the team is dragging. It’s important to have dynamic players like Theo or Vela on the bench for those occasions when the team’s approach has gone stale. We’ve been missing that spark plug and if Vela shows real class today, he could certainly be named to the bench for the game at Craven Cottage this weekend. He’s more natural for the left or right wing position in the 4-3-3 than Eduardo or Bendtner and I’m sure we’ll see him play that role today.

The Carling Cup is fun to watch because it gives us a glimpse of Arsenal’s potential future. It’s a rare chance to watch a meaningful game without really investing too much emotion in the outcome. Last season our Carling Cup run was cut short, but the performances prior to the Burnley game were highly entertaining. It would be sad for the younger players if Arsenal knocked out of the competition at this early stage, but I think there are few fans that would give it more than a passing thought.

I think there’s every possibility that we start Vela, Bendtner, and Wilshere up front today and that would be an interesting front three to say the least. Of course, Wenger may go with an entirely untested lineup and give Watt the start ahead of Bendtner whose place in the first team is entrenched at the moment. Ramsey should anchor the midfield with Fran Merida likely joining him. At the back it will be Gibbs, Silvestre, Senderos and Traore.

I’ll be very interested to see how Gibbs performs. Clichy was better against a pitiful Wigan team, but he must be very close to a benching on the strength of his prior performances. In goal, it’s Scecznezcenezeny, with Wenger protecting Mannone while Almunia struggles to recover from a virus. For all the complaining that was done over Wenger’s transfer business this summer, there were few clamoring for us to make ‘keeper a priority. Now it’s undeniably our weakest position. Meanwhile, you could argue that Wenger’s two siginings this year are currently our two best players. (All apologies to Cesc for that suggestion.)

While Vela returns today, there’s still no sign of Walcott. I was half hoping that Wenger would spring him on WBA today as a surprise to everyone but I doubt that very highly. Apparently the England international (who doubles as an England Under-21 international) has suffered a minor setback. There’s no reason to panic but Walcott is a crucial part of this team and his failure to feature this season is worrying. Wenger always talks about how young players improve dramatically every 6 months. That may be true, but the opposite might be true also. A young player who missed a lot of football might take dramatic steps backwards.

Walcott made huge strides in his game over the last two years, but injuries have cost him a lot of football over the last 12 months. It’s not unreasonable to worry about whether he can pick up where he left off. His England performances weren’t great this summer coming off his injury hit club season and now he will return to Arsenal after another long layoff. I’m sure he’ll be fine, but it would be tragic if his game were to have regressed noticeably after the hard work he had done to improve. As hard as Bendtner works for the team, he’s not a natural wide player. Walcott’s pace on the right will be a perfect fit for the 4-3-3 formation. Now he just needs to get healthy.

Some Arsenal fans seem a little concerned with Robin Van Persie at the moment. His strike rate has been poor despite our surfeit of goals this season. He’s being asked to play the lone striker and it doesn’t look like he’s entirely comfortable just yet. When you watch a player like Didier Drogba take on a defense, you realize just how different Van Persie’s qualities are from a traditional lone striker. However, I think Wenger’s approach to the 4-3-3 gives him a lot of freedom to move around the pitch and as we’ve seen, he hasn’t struggled to get into goal scoring positions.

What’s worrying about RVP at the moment is his uncharacteristic lack of composure. While scored an absolute gem against Citeh, he’s also squandered some opporuntities where he would typically put the ball in the net or pick the perfect pass. Against Wigan there were two notable moments. The first arrived when Eboue ran onto a great through-pass from Gallas on the right and squared to the on rushing Van Persie. Robin got his feet wrong and blasted wide of the net when he probably should have scored. The second memorable moment was more egregious. Cesc scooped the ball over the defense to beat the off-side trap and found Van Persie alone in the box with his back to goal and only the keeper to beat. Robin could have taken the time to turn and shoot, or simply slid the ball across to a wide open Eduardo. Instead he panicked and tried to shoot on the volley with his back to goal. The result was a poorly his effort that was neither on goal, nor retrievable for Eduardo.

It was a bad moment for the Dutch striker who also failed to make clean contact on some other efforts during the match. While he can always hit a good shot, he seems to lack a little composure in the final third at the moment and it’s cost him and the team a few goals. I’m going to take the optimistic approach here and suggest that Robin will get it right. And just think how potent we’ll be when our injured players are back AND Robin improves his goal-scoring form. Tantalizing indeed.

There’s still no word on Nasri’s recovery from the broken leg he was gifted by Diaby, but if the original prognosis is to be believed, then he should be just a couple of weeks from returning. And with Rosicky looking like he might actually be ready to contribute serious minutes, Arsenal are closing in on something resembling full strength. Just imagine what we could accomplish with a front three of Arshavin, Van Persie and Walcott, and a midfield of Nasri, Cesc, and Song. Then Eduardo, Rosicky, Bendtner, Vela, Eboue and Denilson would all be options on the bench. It’s really an ideal situation.

Your bench players are supposed to be the supporting cast that can come to rescue when called upon, but for most of this season (and last) they’ve been the unchallenged starters. And the bench has been composed of reserve players. It’s far from ideal, but it looks like that time might be coming to a close. Just once this season I want to see Wenger go completely nuts on a weaker team and start a lineup including Arshavin, RVP, Theo, Rosicky, Nasri and Cesc. Not the most defensive lineup, but wouldn’t that be fun to watch? (Probably will only be seen in video games.)

On a final note, there’s some people that have been worried about Cesc’s body language lately. But let’s face it, he’s been kicked to pieces the last few weeks. Ade could well have ended his season and Wigan had him limping by the end of the match. It’s no wonder he looked nonplussed when he scored the fourth goal on Saturday. Cesc started the season brightly but after his little injury spell he’s come back with less than his best. I’m sure he’ll sort it out.

But as great as Cesc is, (and he’s VERY VERY great), we look a totally different team without Arshavin. You just can’t say enough about his movement, creativity and ability to make a goal from nothing. He has amazing awareness for where the ball will be and where he’s teammates should be. I’ve really enjoyed watching him and I think he’ll form an excellent partnership once they both get some time to play together. Rosicky’s passing is an upgrade from what we’ve been seeing from some of our other players and he could from the kind of partnership with Arshavin that he seemed to have with Hleb. What’s impressed me the most about Rosicky in his return, is his determination and work rate. I forgot what a hard worker he is on the pitch. It must be a good influence on some of the younger players that watched Ade jog his way around the pitch last season.

And that’s about all there is to say at the moment. My absence from blogging has resulted in a good old-fashioned ramble. I do apologize, but it feels good to get it all down on paper…well…screen.

Enjoy the game today, and if you have any idea where to watch it (besides ATVO at 10pm London time) let me know on twitter.

Come on you (young) Gunners!

About Yankee Gunner

Loyal Arsenal Supporter, Obscure Television Personality
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