When it was first announced, not many would have thought an Arsenal V Shrewsbury tie in the third round of the Carling Cup will take on such significance. I shudder at the thought of elimination but given the recent form, and with the team finding new ways of gifting goals, it’s not too hard to imagine. Certainly, from the oppositions point of view, this is the best time to play Arsenal.
Many, including this blogger, believe domestic cups are the only realistic title hope for this season and Wenger should focus on them more than the main competitions. At the very least he should use this game as an opportunity to provide the new players a better chance to gel together. Some people have said that Arsenal are only now having a proper pre-season. It’s an unfortunate situation but can anyone really claim the Gunners are playing like a side that is on top of its game?
Le Boss faces the unenviable task of finding the right balance in this game. He is likely to give a chance to youngsters like Ryo and AOC. He also has to give a start to Chamakh, probably Frimpong, Djourou, Jenkinson, and Fabianski as well.
That leaves four places up for grabs, a couple on the left side of defence and a couple in midfield.
Arsene might prefer Gibbs, Coquelin, Benayoun, and Miquel for these roles but, to be honest, I am not in favour of starting too many youngsters in this game.
Koscielny has been inconsistent and should start to get his rhythm right. He didn’t play much in the international break so fatigue should not be that big an issue. Moreover, Vermaelen is likely to return in a few weeks so the Frenchman will get another chance to rest.
I’d also pick Santos in this game as he needs a lot more game time to adapt to the system that Arsene is using. He, too, hasn’t played much so tiredness should not be a factor.
Frimpong and Coquelin, despite their age and inexperience, should make a strong midfield duo if they are not too adventurous. If the defence behind them is strong they will be able to play with confidence. These young guns have an important part to play this season and starting in such games will be an immense help.
Up front I’d pick Park ahead of Ryo on the left. Or Benayoun can play on the left and Park can be in the hole. Miyaichi is an exciting talent but the two experienced players will be involved a lot more with the first team and both need time on the pitch. The Japanese youngster can come on later in the game if things go according to plan.
Fabianski – Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Santos – Frimpong, Benayoun, Coquelin – AOC, Chamakh, Park.
I’d also have a strong bench to avoid further embarrassment.
Arsenal should have technically superior players and they will have to make their quality count in individual tussles. That means the players should be able to keep the ball on the ground and bring it out from the back through the midfielders even if the opponents are pressing them higher up the pitch. In some games this season it hasn’t worked quite so well but there can be no excuses in this fixture.
Shrewsbury Town will try to use width and pace to score on the break. It’s a simple enough tactic but has worked for some teams against the Gunners, especially when the defensive players are in a generous mood. There aren’t many tactical surprises in such matches but one cannot always account for outright bloopers or lack of concentration at key moments.
In the above mentioned starting eleven, I’d like to see Park given a free role to drop in behind Chamakh or take his position when the striker moves in to deeper areas. Santos should get the left wing all to himself. The Brazilian has the speed and skills to dazzle on the wing. Coquelin or Frimpong, whoever is on the left side of midfield, should cover for the attacking full-back.
I’d also like to see Jenkinson playing a conservative game instead of pushing forward at every opportunity. Of late I have felt that the full-backs, especially on the right, tend to get in the way of the wide attacker. They should move forward only when the winger makes a run on the inside.
A good result will not change the mood overnight or instil confidence in a deflated squad. Far too many errors have crept in and only a long, strong run can bring the belief back. But this game can at least be a start. It’s a chance to prevent things from getting worse and to take another step forward. That is the only option right now. Everything else will come later.
Pick a strong line-up to give new players more playing time. Get a result. Keep a clean sheet. Then go back to the training ground and focus on the next game. Sounds simple enough but …