Monday, 19 September 2011

Arsenal v Shrewsbury - Preview

Ah, the Carling Cup – perhaps the root of all Arsenal’s recent troubles. Many have pinpointed that agonising cup final loss to Birmingham last season, and more specifically that awkward goal from Obafemi Martins as the moment when it all started to go wrong. Certainly the Gunners’ run of results since then has been exceptionally poor, symptomatic of a shaken confidence that has profoundly affected the team. Arguably it even disillusioned certain players to the extent that they ultimately decided enough was enough and sought pastures new (and wages aplenty).

So what better way to exorcise those demons than go all out to grab firm hold of that three-handled jug in 2011/12, starting tomorrow night, with a confident third-round victory. Arguably there are more important issues to deal with, but a win is a win, after all. So Arsenal’s first eleven can’t beat Blackburn – let’s see if the second string can get past Shrewsbury.

The League Two side have spent much of the last few seasons in and around the play-off places, without quite managing to secure promotion. This is also the first time they’ve reached the third round of the League Cup since 1993 – which, coincidentally, was the last time that Arsenal won it. Even more oddly, they’re also celebrating their 125th year this season – and seem to be making a much better fist of it than we are so far. On their way through to this stage, however, Shrewsbury have already dispatched Derby and Swansea, and a trip to the Emirates is undoubtedly a big game for the Shrews, so they will certainly show plenty of spirit.

Wenger is likely to ring the changes, giving the fringe players a run out whilst taking his usual ‘young guns’ approach to the competition. From a fans’ point of view, this ought to be a good opportunity to evaluate some of the players we have yet to see properly – Ryo Miyaichi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ju Young Park perhaps. But the line-up is anyone’s guess really. Whoever emerges from the tunnel, I hope they embrace the occasion. A bit of youthful bravado and audacity would be quite refreshing given the cynicism that seems to surround the first team at the moment. Hopefully Arsenal will play with the sense of liberation that has epitomised the best of the Wenger era – the sort of football we used to see regularly but now seem to get only sporadically. The Gunners haven’t failed to reach at least the quarter-finals of this competition since 2002/03, and there’s no reason why that record won’t continue to stand. Given recent performances, taking it one game at a time is the most sensible approach right now, and the players selected tomorrow might just surprise us all and thrive in the spotlight.

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