I remember when top clubs began blooding youngsters and squad players en masses in the League Cup – it had always been a competition for a little rotation, but the criticism ran wild when the likes of us and United played entirely different teams from the one that ran out at the weekend.
These days, it is noticeable how different the media message is. Suddenly, it’s ‘fun to watch the next generation’, rather than a mockery of the tournament. I guess there are only so many times our kids can demolish a lower end Premiership first team before they begin to earn some grudging respect.
Tonight, however, will see us field the most experienced side we’ve put out in this competition since we reached the final a few seasons ago. At one end, Eduardo will feature, as may Bendtner depending on his planned role in Saturday’s derby, while in defence, Silvestre and Senderos will get some much needed match practice.
Wilshere is injured, but returning in midfield is Samir Nasri, making his first appearance of the season after suffering a broken leg in the summer. Nasri is an interesting one, in the sense of what Wenger’s plans are for him. Personally, I think he’ll end up in the central three rather than the attacking trio, although he is probably ahead of Eboue if we continue to have injuries up front. But I actually believe Wenger sees Nasri as Song’s replacement while he’s away in January, and though that would nullify some of the attacking threat the Frenchman offers, he has shown signs of promise in that area of the field.
Wenger alludes to this here:
“I can play him where he is needed basically. I would say more in the defensive role now but, because he can dribble, he can play on the flanks too. He has pace and he can play in a role that is half a winger.”
It seems Nasri is being moulded into a ball-winning and forward-passing central midfielder, which in fairness is also what Ramsey is becoming. It seems that Wenger is not satisfied with the true Makelele-style holding midfielder, i.e. one who only breaks up play and leaves the creativity to others. It is noticeable how much Song’s attacking passes have improved in the last year, and it seems Nasri and Ramsey are his natural competition.
Elsewhere, the inclusion of Fabianski and Szczesny as the two keepers is either good or terrible news for Almunia. If he’s a glass half full guy, he could think that with Fabianski involved here, the Pole isn’t in contention for the number one jersey in the league, and therefore he only has Mannone to get past. Alternatively, if he’s feeling pessimistic, he may think that since Mannone isn’t in this squad either, the Italian is first choice and Almunia is getting well and truly frozen out.
Even Jens played cup football when he wasn’t in favour.
It is a strange one, and one that will play out over the next few weeks. If Mannone continues to be inconsistent, and Almunia fails to displace him, then the future looks bleak for the Spaniard. But I still think he’ll be back, sooner rather than later, perhaps even Saturday.
Returning to tonight, and I expect the team to be:
[edit: I had put Vela in, but he’s not in the squad – does anyone know why?]
I’m leaving Bendtner on the bench for this one as I think he’ll be starting against Spurs on Saturday. As for Liverpool, Aquilani will be in their squad for the first time, although he is unlikely to start, and I have to say I feel a little sorry for the guy – he is universally seen as Alonso’s replacement and the answer to all their woes, which is a lot of unfair pressure. Still, that’s what comes with his price tag.
I don’t expect Liverpool to field many first teamers – with a tricky trip to Fulham at the weekend, they’ll surely be prioritising that and next week’s crucial trip to Lyon in the Champions League. Lose both, and the main two trophies might be out of their grasp already.
So I’m predicting us to get our first victory against them since that 6-3 mauling in this competition three years ago, by a comfortable 3-1.
Enjoy the game, wherever you are.