It’s been a rough start on and off the pitch for Arsenal, opening with two straight defeats and dealing with numerous player injuries, COVID cases, and looming transfer deals away from North London. Would things be different Thomas Partey, Alex Lacazette, Ben White & Gabriel had started the season fit (plus a Hector Bellerin interested in staying)? Or if Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale had arrived earlier and were able to play in the first two matchdays? Perhaps, but it’s the reality of Arsenal’s situation.
On the positive side, the Ramsdale and Odegaard signings were completed. Sambi and Tavares have looked like quality purchases in these early matches. Partey, Lacazette, White, & Gabriel will all begin returning in the weeks ahead. Smith Rowe looks ready to take another step forward in his progression. And Bukayo Saka will be match-fit soon and back into the form we saw last season. But before all of that, the Gunners have a much-needed Premier League reprieve as they head to the Hawthorns for a Carabao Cup second-round tie this Wednesday.
It’s hard to find a fit and available matchday squad for the Cup, but Arsenal has to focus on picking up the win, even with Manchester City looming.
- Bernd Leno
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
- Sead Kolašinac
- Albert Sambi Lokonga
- Granit Xhaka
- Emile Smith Rowe
- Reiss Nelson
- Bukayo Saka
- Left Out: Kieran Tierney (held out with leg issue ahead of Manchester City at the weekend), Lucas Torreira (linked with a loan move to Fiorentina) & Arthur Okonkwo
- Out: Hector Bellerin (thigh injury/pushing for an exit), Ben White (COVID), Thomas Partey (ankle), Eddie Nketiah (ankle), Gabriel (knee), Alex Lacazette (COVID), Alex Runarsson (COVID), & Willian (COVID).
- Forget that it’s the League Cup. Or that is it is against a Championship side. Wednesday is a must-win. This squad needs a victory, and maybe more so Arteta needs a victory. The options are limited — look at this missing XI: (Runarsson, Bellerin-White-Gabriel-Tierney, Partey-Torreira, Willian-?-Nketiah, Lacazette), outside of a #10 and the keeper, that’s a Premier League level lineup). But regardless, Arsenal has the quality to overcome these early-season setbacks and advance into the next round.
- Wednesday provides the perfect opportunity for the debut of new goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. Bernd Leno had a solid performance against Chelsea, especially considering what he was working with on the backline Sunday, but Ramsdale was brought in to challenge for the #1 spot, not to be Leno’s backup. The League Cup offers him his first chance to make his case as to why he is Arsenal’s future keeper.
- Nuno Tavares has looked a smart buy in his limited minutes as a substitute during the first two matches. He was likely set for his first start even before Tierney exited Sunday with a slight knock. His ability to step in will be key for Arsenal this season in order to avoid overplaying the constant injury borderline Tierney seemed to stay on last year. In the center, Arteta is forced to continue with Mari and Holding, unless he opts for Chambers as a CB and plays Cedric or Maitland-Niles at right-back instead.
- While Partey is out injured, Xhaka and Sambi are near locks in the midfield. Brought in as a depth piece and looking toward the future, Sambi has stepped in and impressed during the opening games. Pairing Elneny with Maitland-Niles seems like the most sensible duo, even if it will limit the midfield’s influence on Arsenal’s attack.
- Placing Odegaard in the starting lineup is a risk considering we haven’t got the official word that he has received visa clearance at the time of writing. Fingers crossed he is cleared because Smith Rowe should be rested or else Arteta may be forced to play Reiss Nelson there. If cleared, it should be easy for Odegaard to slip into the role considering he had half a season under Arteta last year.
- Up top Aubameyang is the attractive option considering Arsenal’s issues turning shots into goals thus far this season, but it’s unlikely he is fit enough to start Wednesday and against Manchester City. Instead, Balogun should get his second start, which will allow Martinelli to slide out to the left where he is more comfortable and dangerous. Pepe’s experience, rather than a start for Nelson, on the other flank, is the best call in order to stretch West Brom’s defense and allow more space (and chance creation) for Balogun and Odegaard.
- The absences make it a limited bench (see Kolašinac once again). In the second half, we should see Aubameyang (to get minutes ahead of the City match) and Nelson, while hopefully Smith Rowe, Saka, Xhaka, and Sambi are all rested.
How to watch
Wednesday (8/25) at 3:00 pm ET / 12:00 pm PT on ESPN+.
Arsenal - 2
West Brom - 1
This will not be an easy match for Arsenal. On the road, going up against a side that is in good form (three wins and a draw), tied atop the Championship, and having scored the most goals in the division so far (11 from four). Expect close to their best XI as they look to pull the upset in front of a supportive home stadium.
Meanwhile, Arsenal likely enter the match needing a response after Sunday’s loss. Can Mikel Arteta find a starting lineup to control the game and keep West Brom’s attack quiet? With no European action, deep runs in both competitions could provide much-needed lifts as the Gunners look to regain confidence against their Premier League rivals.