We go into today’s League Cup with more questions than answers. Is our uneven form a truer form of our levels than our thrilling but ultimately disappointing title-chase of last year, or does it merely reflect the challenge of seeing key players and and of integrating new ones while injuries plague the squad? There are probably more, but I’m a lazy, lazy man, Roger. A trip to face Brentford offers a tricksy mix of options—it’s not as clear a chance to rotate thoroughly as a match against, say, Lincoln City, but we should still be able to rest key starters and give valuable opportunities to others.
Of course, there’s first the small matter of revenge. While I admire and respect Brentford for how they play under Thomas Frank, I still want some payback for the hiding they handed us at the start of the 2021-22 season. Yes, we did do them 1-2 in the reverse fixture and went further in our last trip to GTech Community Stadium. I want more, and tonight is a chance to get some. With that in mind, I hope we can count on Arteta to name a mixed squad that is still strong enough to overwhelm Frank’s injury-riddled side.
Brentford might be one of the squads suffering more injuries (six) than ours (four). Of course, there’s also the still-suspended Ivan Toney. Long story short, Frank’s had to do some serious rotation already, and he may have little choice other than to rest the few starters who are still healthy. Having just suffered a thorough thrashing at the Toffees’ hands—their first Prem win and the first match in which they’ve scored more than two goals (even Calvert-Lewin scored!)—Brentford have only the woeful form of Luton, Burnely, and Sheffield United to thank for keeping them out of the drop zone. Given those injuries and that suspension, they have quite enough to deal with already. That’s not the same as saying we take anything for granted, of course.
As for us, getting the right mix will be key. Vital players like Saka, White, Saliba, and Ødegaard must be rested, full stop. From there, at a risk of heaping pressure on a player, this is a gilt-edged chance for Havertz to break his duck and get the monkey off his back and add a third animal-based idiom. Brentford’s reconfigured defense is leaky. Smith Rowe should start. Arteta himself said that “he will have a big chance to show that he can play at this level and be a really important player for us.” There’s some quizzical phrasing there as it seems like he’s already shown he can play at this level…
Nelson, Kiwior, Elneny (!), and Tomiyasu should get some minutes, and I’d like to see a few youngsters like Nwaneri or Cozier-Duberry make the squad and perhaps even start
Then, there’s the issue of Ramsdale and Raya. Raya, on loan from Brentford, may or may not even be eligible. Frank has been coy on the subject, saying he “doesn’t know if Brentford have given Arsenal permission” for Raya to play. The official matchday programme says different, but there’s just enough uncertainty there to give Ramsdale the nod. This skirts the issue of whether Raya has done to Ramsdale what Ramsdale did to Leno for now, even if Raya was a bit less than his best against Tottenham. Some call for Hein to start. Were it against Lincoln City or Port Vale, I’d get behind that, but Brentford still pose enough of a threat through Mbuemo (should he start) that I’d rather see Ramsdale be given a chance to prove himself.
This is a cup we have a legitimate chance to win. It’s a half-dozen fixtures, several of which could be against Championship or League One sides, and, even if it’s a lesser cup, we should have a go at it.
Brentford 0-3 Arsenal. You read it here first unless you read it somewhere else first. Add your predictions below the fold…