Today is the day of our first match in the Capital One Cup, arguably the least interesting competition for every Gooner in the world, especially since our trophy drought has ended. Perhaps it’s unfair – it is a competition in which we have had so many disappointments in recent years – a defeat against Birmingham City in that unfortunate 2010-11 Carling Cup Final, a heavy defeat against Spuds in 2007-08, a shocking defeat against the fourth-tier-side Bradford in 2012-13 or a disappointing defeat to Chelsea last season – but also some incredible performances like convincing victories over Newcastle and Spuds in 2010-11, the unforgettable come-back against Reading from being four goals down to winning the game 7:5 in 2012-13, Julio Baptista’s rare moments of brilliance against Liverpool in 2006-07 or a brave display by our second string against eventual champions Manchester City in 2011-12.
Given the importance of forthcoming league fixtures, it’s very likely that Arsene Wenger will pick our second string to face Southampton.
David Ospina is the likely choice to start between the sticks. The Colombian hasn’t had a chance to show his quality to the Gooners following his switch from Nice and the match against The Saints in the Capital One Cup is a great opportunity to do so.
Hector Bellerin might get his second start at the right full-back position in the space of seven days. Calum Chambers – who joined Arsenal this summer from Southampton – should get a rest as he is both our first-choice right full-back and a back-up central defender.
Isaac Hayden – who has experience playing in the Capital One Cup – might get the nod for the central defence. Now, who is going to be his partner in the central defence? One of the experienced defenders (Mertesacker or Koscielny), Chambers or Semi Ajayi, another promising central defender?
If I were a manager, I’d spare Kieran Gibbs from this kind of competition due to his injury record. However, Nacho Monreal is out and that’s the only reason why Gibbs seems like a certain choice. Of course, there is another option – Mathieu Flamini was a member of that unbelievable defence in our route to Champions’ League Final 2005-06. The Frenchman played as a left full-back due to Ashley Cole’s injury.
Francis Coquelin hasn’t started for Arsenal since his return from an unsuccessful loan spell at Freiburg. The French defensive midfielder might get a chance to show that he can replace Mikel Arteta as our holding midfielder. He can also be a cover for a full-back position.
Tomas Rosicky should get his position in the middle of the pitch. He has been one of our most reliable players for years but he hasn’t been given too much playing time this term. Matches like this, however, are the best opportunity for important squad players like Rosicky to gain some match-fitness.
Santi Cazorla might start in the middle of the pitch next to Rosicky. Santi hasn’t been as effective down the flank like he is when he plays down the middle and he might get a chance to shine like Özil did against Aston Villa.
Joel Campbell should be handed his first start this season, probably down the right flank.
Lukas Podolski hasn’t featured too much since winning the World Cup but he might get a chance to start against The Saints. In his debut season for Arsenal he scored a fabulous free-kick against the same opponents – perhaps a repeat of the same can take place tomorrow?
Chuba Akpom has impressed in the preseason. His pace and finishing are impressive assets – to enrich them with more experience would be a great thing for the youngster.
Our opponents had a lot of problems during the summer – they had to replace a lot of players from their starting eleven (Boruc, Chambers, Lovren, Shaw, Lallana, Lambert, Gaston Ramirez…) with new players (Forster, Tadić, Pelle, Long…). So far they haven’t had a bad campaign. Au contraire – they lie in second place, three points behind the leaders Chelsea and one point above us. Dušan Tadić looks like the real deal and Graziano Pelle knows a few tricks as well. Their manager Ronald Koeman – who has been a European champion with PSV, Barcelona and the Netherlands – might see this competition as a realistic opportunity for The Saints to win a trophy so he might use his best team against our second string. The Saints are well-known for their football academy that has produced talented players like Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw and one of our newest acquisitions Calum Chambers.
In a way, the Capital One Cup can be a useful distraction and an opportunity to boost the match fitness of some of our squad players. On the other hand, there are pointless two-legged semifinals in January during important matches in the league. Truth be told, Arsenal can afford to lose against The Saints in this competition but a victory – say, after a penalty-shootout after 1:1 in 120 minutes – might mean a lot for the confidence of our squad players. And, we are Arsenal – we should always aim for a victory!
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 29th Jan 2014 Southampton 2 – Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 23 Nov 2013 Arsenal FC 2 – Southampton 0
Premier League (EPL) 1 Jan 2013 Southampton 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 15 Sep 2012 Arsenal FC 6 – Southampton 1
Premier League (EPL) 26 Feb 2005 Southampton 1 – Arsenal 1
Bellerin Hayden Ajeyi Flamini
Campbell Rosicky (c) Cazorla Podolski
Arsenal 1 v 1 Southampton, 4:3 on penalties