The usual five talking points ahead of this evening’s League Cup tie against Blackpool…
Beatable opposition, yes, but it may not be such a formality
Unai Emery is likely to rest a lot of players that started at the weekend, and probably feels he can afford to do so, as Blackpool are currently languishing in 12th place in League One. However, they have progressed through three rounds of the League Cup (or Carabao if you prefer) to reach the last 16, including taking the scalp of Championship side QPR in the last round. They have become something of a draw specialist in the league, only losing twice. So this is a side that could prove stubborn, and will presumably set up without too many pretentions about dominating possession. What it comes down to is whether or not Arsenal can score early to give us a game of football this evening. A draw after 90 minutes is not as fanciful as it seems.
Unpopular Owners unite the two sets of fans
In a phone call on Monday, someone asked me if I thought there would be similar outpouring of grief if the tragic events at Leicester on Saturday occurred at Arsenal. They knew the answer, and were just making a point. The connection that Stan Kroenke has with the supporters is not a healthy one, but even that pales into insignificance when one looks at Blackpool’s recent history and the ownership of the Oyston family. There is no attempt to disguise the bad feeling between the supporters and the owners, on both sides. At least Stan Kroenke has never publicly abused the fanbase. There is deep suspicion that, in spite of owning the club for over 30 years, the Oystons would be happy to see it go under so that they can cash in on the value of the land at the club’s Bloomfield Road home. Granted, there is a deep fear of the Kroenke’s extracting lumps of cash from Arsenal, but there is nothing to suggest they want the club to go out of business.
The kids get a run out
An Arsenal Under-21 game took place yesterday evening, away to Cheltenham Town in the Check-a-trade trophy. The Gunners were hammered 6-2, although with tonight presumably in mind, neither Emile Smith-Rowe nor Eddie Nketiah were on duty. Smith-Rowe started the last League Cup game, against Brentford, with Nketiah on the bench. With the matches piling up thick and fast, and injuries starting to limit Unai Emery’s options, both might well start this evening. Looking at the line-up that travelled to Cheltenham, I noticed that Gedion Zelalem was on the bench. He is slowly making a return from a cruciate injury, and it remains to be seen whether or not he can fulfil the potential that saw him make his debut for Arsenal in the FA Cup back in 2014.
Likely starting eleven
Unai Emery has already stated Petr Cech will play in goal. If Bernd Leno is subsequently picked on Saturday against Liverpool, I think we can conclude that for now, Cech will be regarded as the cup keeper. In defence, unless Emery is going to play one of the youths, it’s perm any two from Mustafi, Holding and Sokratis, with Carl Jenkinson possibly getting a run out at right back, and Lichtsteiner switching to the left side. Mohammed Elneny is injured, and one assumes both Xhaka and Torreira will be rested. So a midfield of Guendouzi and Aaron Ramsey looks likely. That would allow for an attacking quartet of Smith-Rowe, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck and Nketiah, with some big names on the bench. It’s certainly a good enough eleven to take care of Blackpool at home, on paper at least.
There are still plenty of upper tier seats (£20 to adults, £10 kids and OAPs) available, so we are likely looking at a crowd around the 35,000 mark. There was a time when, with such cheap seats, the stadium did manage to sell out for these kind of matches (although that may have been with the assistance of freebies to local schools). Those days are gone, the novelty factor of the Emirates a thing of distant memory. However, it is notable that even the buzz around the changes at the club and the good run of results has not created the demand of the early years at the new stadium, at least as far as the cup competitions are concerned. Now Liverpool at the weekend though is a different matter. If any season ticket holders are not going (and have a pair), do get in touch – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have had a lot of friends asking for that game. One person who will not be in attendance this evening is former CEO Ivan Gazidis, who officially started his lucrative job at AC Milan today.
This is one of those nine out of ten times the game is played Arsenal will win. I don’t see Blackpool winning any way other than extra-time and a penalty shoot-out. My main hope is for a goal in the opening half hour to open the game out. Arsenal’s line up will be a little unfamiliar, so the fluidity we have seen on occasion this season may not be there. I’ll go for a 3-0 home win.
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