How do you predict a line up for a game like this? AFC Wimbledon are the visitors to the Emirates for the Carabao Cup fourth round tie and there is a clamour for one or two exciting prospects to get some much anticipated minutes for the first team.
This type of fixture was the very kind that we would experience in the past under Arsene Wenger, a line-up littered with the brightest talents banging on the door from the youth set up. Many came in and dazzled leaving us salivating at a bright future for the Arsenal. It served well as a toe into the first team, a chance to gain experience against opposition that although may not deliberately roll over to take a battering the quality of the ‘new class’ would shine through and excel against them.
Fabregas, Wilshere, Bendtner, Vela to name a few were players that grabbed their opportunities with both hands and never looked back. Admittedly Lupoli, Quincy, Eisfeld also grabbed their chances in the League Cup with both hands but experienced contrasting futures at Arsenal. Either way an early round home league cup tie was always a good gateway to the future talent on Arsenal’s books and games that with the lower costs to attend always felt good value to money.
That philosophy certainly changed over the years as the league campaigns became more pressurised and valuable minutes were favoured for first teamers over the promising kids. Well, that reason and Chelsea seemed to
buy snap up any promising talent before any other club had a chance.
So the big question is what side of the fence does Mikel Arteta sit with regards to using this fixture to blood some of the promising youngsters making a mark in the Premier League 2 this season? It’s not that he has shunned talent evident by the trust thrust upon the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka last season. He may not have given them their debuts but it’s fair to say he showed an element of trust in them enough for them to now be the established first team starters they are today.
If we look at last season Arteta did refuse the temptation to blood a youthful team in the Europa league group stage last season with the group won and a dead rubber fixture against Dundalk was on the table. Instead the line-up was littered with Fringe whilst Miguel Azeez and Folarin Balogun who were the kids on everybody’s lips had to settle with places on the bench.
Although not a dead rubber, taking on League One AFC Wimbledon at home is a fixture you’d expect Arsenal to win even with a team full of youngsters. Especially after their emphatic 6-1 victory over Chelsea at the weekend confidence would be sky high from the new class.
Here’s the part where I pour some cold water on the anticipation of a youth team exhibition tonight. No European football has led to limited minutes for a number of the first team squad. They need minutes on the pitch and if not a run out tonight when else will they play? Alas over the course of the season their services with be called upon but there’s going to be a lot of unproductive weekends for many of these players. How else do they show the manager they should be considered than putting in a performance in these types of games to build up some sharpness and register back up on the manager’s radar? Which players are we thinking of? Well let’s start with Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland Niles, Gabriel Martinelli, Callum Chambers, Alex Lacazette, Rob Holding, Folarin Balogun and a now in contention Mohammed Elneny to name a few. That’s eight outfield players I’ve named needing minutes and more likely to be the ones starting the game.
The bench however could be open season and there is an opportunity for the earlier mentioned Chelsea slayers to at least occupy some of the bench. Whether they get on the pitch will be down to the manager and how the game is going. I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning the name of one player who has been the talk of the town over the past few weeks with a growing CV of video evidence to back up the early tips of the immense potential that Arsenal have on their books. The level of pressure on this kid is through the roof and already at this stage of not even making his first team debut I am sure 99% of you reading this are well aware of who I am talking about and how good he could be.
The Gunnerstown Site have been keen followers of this player of potential with scouting reports made long before the inroads he has made over the last couple seasons. It would be exciting to see him get minutes but at the same time there really is no rush to blood him, he is developing well and there is no doubt his time will come. He just needs to be managed right and we have to put trust into Per Mertesacker and his team to provide best advice to Mikel on when he will be ready to make his first team debut. Integration is key and the training with the first team this season will be invaluable to his development.
So AFC Wimbledon, what can we say about them? Well as mentioned earlier they reside in League One, they’ve had a reasonable start to their league campaign sitting in 7th place whilst losing their most recent game at home one nil to Plymouth Argyle. Whilst being one of the highest scorers in League One their top scorer is actually one of their central defenders Will Nightingale with 4 goals for them this season. We will definitely need to be focused on set plays to keep him at bay. If, from an Arsenal perspective if you are going to the game and you want a pantomime villain then look no further than George Marsh. A tough tackling defensive midfielder who was released by Tottenham at the end of last season and snapped up by AFC Wimbledon. He may be no goal threat but always be wary of a former Spurs player looking to make a point, Watch your ankles lads!
Enjoy your day people
This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.