There was an interesting detail mentioned during Arsene Wenger’s pre-match interview on Arsenal Player – Arsenal haven’t won at Bradford for 90 years! It sounds staggering but most of it is down to the fact that the teams haven’t played each other very many times. That said, Arsene Wenger did take the Gunners to Bradford twice – both in the year 2000, but in different seasons – in the Premier League and returned with just a point out of those two games.
The League Two side has beaten Championship and Premier League opposition in the competition already and have shown good form in their league which has put them in contention for promotion.
In the Capital One Cup their wins have come late. Against Wigan it was a scoreless draw even after extra-time, but the Bantams won their 7th successive penalty shootout. It was a commendable achievement away from home against a team playing three levels above them. Their win against Championship side Watford was a result of a dramatic late comeback with the winner being scored deep in injury time at the end of the second half. Prior to that, Phil Parkinson’s side beat League Two opponents Burton Albion and League One side Notts County in extra-time.
Bradford have beaten opponents from all divisions above them in their run to the quarter-finals and it’s safe to say they are fighting hard till the very end. Their home record in League Two is also quite impressive as they’ve the most points (23 having scored 18 and conceded just 6 goals in their 11 home games.
All signs points to a tough battle despite the difference in the levels the teams compete at routinely. League Two sounds a far way down but players like Zavon Hines and Stephen Darby have gone to Bradford after being on the fringes of Premier League clubs in their youth. Cup ties have a way of levelling the gap between teams and this should be no different.
Tactically, this is unlikely to be very different from many of the battles we’ve seen against lower division opponents. For Bradford, it’ll mostly be about remaining organized and denying opportunities to the Gunners while looking for chances to counter-attack and/or win set-pieces.
Two factors will have a major bearing on the game. Arsene Wenger’s team selection will determine the technical quality, tactical balance, and experience that Arsenal have out on the pitch. The support of the home crowd and Bradford’s energy levels will have an impact on how effectively they prevent Arsenal from building their play.
Phil Parkinson will also have to decide whether he wants to play for penalties or go for a result in normal time. We’ll know his choice based on the aggressiveness of his team. If they sit back and soak up pressure I’d venture to say they’re holding out for a penalty shootout, or at least trying to stay in the game till late. Seeing as their wins have all come late in the game, it could be the right option.
The risk for Bradford City would be that Arsenal can settle the game early if they’re not challenged. Although the Gunners have struggled to score in some games, many of their problems seem to be linked with the opponent’s ability to press them in the middle of the pitch or in their own half.
Arsene will have to find a good mix of youth and experience for this one. It’s not as easy as it would seem to some. I expect Coquelin and Ramsey will get a game. Jenkinson should come in at right-back. Apart from that none of the choices are clear cut.
Mannone might get a start if he’s fit. The other places in defence are up for grabs but neither Yennaris nor Miquel are fit. Meade at left-back could be an option. In the centre Squillaci could have another game. I don’t know if Djourou is fit or even in the manager’s thoughts. All three together could make the defence a tad feeble as they haven’t played many games. So, I’d like to see either Gibbs or Vermaelen selected in the starting eleven.
Up front, Podolski could get a start if he’s recovered. He deserves a go down the middle. Wenger could also put the German on the left and Chamakh central. Rosicky and Eisfeld should also be in contention for a starting birth. Arshavin is another option but considering the fact that he wasn’t picked for the dead-rubber against Olympiacos, it’s not clear whether the manager wants to give him any more game-time.
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho haven’t played many minutes, and the Ivorian will likely be going away to the African Cup of Nations in January, so picking one of the two could give the team greater bite.
Mannone – Jenkinson, Squillaci, Vermaelen, Meade – Coquelin, Ramsey, Rosicky – Gervinho, Podolski, Eisfeld.
Having a couple of senior players on the bench would be a good insurance policy.
A win in this game will take the Gunners into the semi-final of the League Cup. It could lead to some positive news cycles and help build on some of the positive sound bites that came after the win against West Brom. In contrast, failure to progress will pile on the pressure on the five straight Premier League games in the coming weeks.
Will this be another tennis score after 6-1, 7-5 wins in the previous two rounds of the competition?Follow @goonerdesi