As you might guess, none of us is a Sheffield Wednesday expert. It's been fifteen years since they were in the top flight, and just as long since they faced Arsenal. But luckily for us, we know someone who is an expert. Jeff Paternostro is a Wednesday fan who just happens to also be a fellow SB Nation writer, over at the great Mets blog Amazin' Avenue. Check them out for World Series coverage, but here we have some questions and answers so that we can get to know Arsenal's Capital One Cup opponent a little better.
QUESTION: Wednesday's manager has already said there will be some rotation: who do you think will play, and who are the most important players for Wednesday?
Jeff Paternostro: If we use the Newcastle match as a guide, Carlos Carvalhal made ten changes from the previous league tie, keeping only centerback Tom Lees in the squad. I don't think there will be quite as much rotation for this game, but like Arsenal, Wednesday have a very crowded schedule this month. There's also a few key players nursing minor injuries right now, most notably striker Fernando Forestieri and midfielder Sam Hutchinson, so I imagine they will likely sit.
Wednesday had an incredibly active summer, bringing in 15+ players through season long loans or transfers, so there is much more quality in depth than there has been in past seasons. The "Wednesday reserves" didn't have much trouble with Newcastle at St. James (I know, I know), and whoever plays should be up for it, especially with close to 40,000 expected at Hillsborough.
Without knowing exactly what the starting XI will look like, I think the key names for Wednesday will be Adthe Nuhiu, Marco Matias, and Jose Semedo.
Nuhiu has been Wednesday's first choice striker for the past two seasons, but came off the bench Friday against Rotherham. I think this was with an eye towards starting him in the Cup. He is a bit of a throwback striker: big, kind of awkward, very European. He has an immense work rate though and gave Manchester City fits in the FA Cup last season with his height and hold up play. Premier League teams don't really see strikers like this anymore and Nuhiu can be quite a handful on his good days. He should also give them a release valve from what I imagine will be pretty constant attacking pressure.
Matias was the big offseason signing, moving from Nacional in the Portuguese top division for two million euros. He was third in scoring in Portugal last year playing primarily on the wing. He looked strong at the start of the season, including scoring a wonder goal against Leeds, but as the team shifted from a 4-3-3 to more of a 4-4-2, with Forestieiri in the hole behind Nuhiu, there hasn't been a clear role for him in the squad. He also been plagued by inconsistency with his touch and passing. He is likely to get a start with all the squad rotation, and he is one of the few players in the team that could conjure a moment of individual brilliance to stun Arsenal.
Semedo is a Wednesday legend at this point, having been with the team since their most recent dark days in League One. He seems to genuinely love the club and city of Sheffield, and the love has been returned in kind by the fanbase. He is your standard solid, down-and-dirty lower league defensive midfielder type, playing deep and shielding the back four. Hutchinson has been mostly healthy this season (which is very unusual for him) and a better fit for the more "continental" style Wednesday has been playing. But Semedo probably gets the start on Tuesday, and expect him to conjure every ounce of guile and use every lower league trick he can think of to try and stop Arsenal going forward.
Q: How are Wednesday doing in the Championship, and what's the expectation for the season? How important is the Capital One Cup to Wednesday?
JP: Wednesday currently sit ninth in the Championship, four points off the top six. They are in the midst of a run of good form, unbeaten in their last eight in all competitions following a frustrating start to the campaign. With new ownership, a new management structure, a new manager, and a new and huge squad, you would expect this to be a bit of a consolidation year as everyone figures out their role, and the squad takes some time to gel, you know, all the usual clichés. But Wednesday have looked quite good recently and the Championship is a very unpredictable league year-to-year (Brighton, for example, made the playoffs two years ago, were a bottom of the table team last year, and are unbeaten in the league this year). I think the optimists among Owls fans (few that there are) would have seen a potential playoff team if things broke right. And this looks like a team that will be in that conversation all season at least.
As for the Cup, I think everyone in Sheffield is happy to have a big, 90s throwback cup tie at Hillsborough, but I think expectations for the actual match are pretty low. Carvalhal has said in the press that Arsenal should win easily given their level of talent, and I think they view these Cup games as more a measuring stick than anything else. They've had a bit of a soft draw to get here, facing a pair of League Two sides and Newcastle. They did see a bit of a dip in form last year after a 7-0 pelting by Man City in the League Cup, but this is a top to bottom different club now. Still, I think they would like to acquit themselves well in this game.
Q: What will Arsenal need to do well to win this game (aside from, say, scoring more goals than Wednesday)?
JP: I think Wednesday will be up for it early and push hard for the first 15 minutes or so. One place they have been vulnerable defensively is on the wings. Their fullbacks are attack-minded in this system, and while Tom Lees and his centerback partners Michael Turner or Glenn Loovens are very capable at snuffing out attacks, there will be immense pressure on the fullbacks (probably Liam Palmer and Rhoys Wiggins) to deal with Arsenal on the inevitable counterattacks. Wednesday have looked vulnerable at times on set pieces as well. If Arsenal can avoid giving up an early goal and hit Wednesday on the counter, it should be a fairly comfortable evening in S6. The longer the game goes without a goal though, the more interesting it might get. Arsenal will also need to deal with long balls to Nuhiu, as Wednesday have had a lot of success with their attacking players making runs off of those long balls.
The recent Watford game might be the model for success. Handle a high-energy Wednesday team and crowd in the first half, and then strike back as the adrenalin of a big fixture starts to wear off.
BONUS QUESTON: Which Mets player would make the best soccer player?
I suppose the easy answer is Noah Syndergaard, who played a fair amount when he was younger and is very tall. I still haven't been able to discover what position he played, but he could work as a Mertesacker-type centerback with his height and overall athleticism.
It is also entirely possible that Bartolo Colon is in at least as good shape as Emile Heskey at this point.
Thanks a lot to Jeff for taking the time out in a busy World Series week to answer our questions!