Arsenal playing at home in the league cup has usually ended up as a relatively comfortable path to the next round for the Gunners during Arsène Wenger's reign over the years. The mood pre matches has often reflected that, at least from a personal stand point. Today feels a little different this time round. Well at least in the sense that I see anything but a stroll in the park.
Arsène is set to wave his managerial wand over the team and ring in the changes. The start of the season is key for partnerships to be formed and understandings fully developed before the team clicks into gear. This is even more important given the lack of pre season. So this could explain why the likes of Tomas Rosicky, Joel Campbell, Lukas Podolski et al have been sidelined without much of a sniff of the pitch to date. Well now is the chance for many players to show that they should be starters and not just 'in case of emergency break open glass' players.
The potential downside to what is likely to be almost a new team is that the momentum and partnerships that have grown will be wiped clean and a new group will have to hit the ground running all over the pitch. Southampton are flying and have worked miracles to have started so well after a sledge hammer was taken to their squad this summer.
Like every Arsenal fan I am sure, I am interested to know what David Ospina has tucked up his gloves. He has been bought has direct competition to Szczesny and not long term replacement so he'll want to impress. Let's hope Davey boy doesn't have a great deal of action over the 90 minutes. If that is the case then the team will have been doing their jobs.
This is the area of the team that will no doubt have the most focus when the line ups are first shown. How many of our first choice back four will be absent? For once there will be cheers if our first choice players are missing. I can't see Arsène going full youth mode in the back line. It has just occurred to me that the one player I was about to refer to is in fact 19 year old Calum Chambers so forget that last line. I should have said, I don't see Arsène going full reserve mode because surely one of our first choice players will start because we simply do not have the numbers. Chambers could revert back to centre back, perhaps alongside Isaac Hayden or Semi Ajayi. I don't know who the manager rates higher. If you do know then drop me a comment, I'd love to know.
Bellerin who played in Dortmund should slip into this fixture without a nerve given what he had to face out in Germany. Left back will have to be plugged by a rather square shaped peg. The options are really between Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin. I guess Arsène has to choose experience or mobility and I think experience makes some sense given the lack of it from the other three fellas.
I have a Diaby theory, hear me out. If Abou Diaby plays as the deepest midfielder rather than his usual box to box then Arsène is grooming away in the hope that he can stay fit. The only possible available spot in our first team would be Arteta's role, right? So gradually bringing him back slowly and playing him as the defensive midfielder when Flamini and potentially Coquelin are on the pitch tells me that Arsène is planning something. If he plays box to box then maybe, just maybe Abou is playing out his final few months with us. We know how much Arsène loves a bit of Abou (and rightly so in my opinion) so I wouldn't be so sure.
Rocker Rosicky will grab his ten spot. If I was Tomas I'd be feeling somewhat hard done by given his lack of minutes. A great continuity player who makes others play better so I for one am very pleased that he will be given a game. Francis Coquelin or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can play in the other midfield spot, depends how Arsène wants to go.
Wide Strikers and Centre Forward
I've been tinkering around with this, changing my mind a number of times today. Basically I ain't got the foggiest. You'd expect Lukas Podolski to play and you'd also expect Joel Campbell to get his chance. But Arsène doesn't like playing with three out and out strikers in attack. He tends to like a creative ball recycler in there. Especially against a good passing team like Southampton who could dominate midfield if we played with three strikers. So with that, I expect one of Santi Cazorla or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start wide with one of our wide strikers on the other flank.
I wondered if Chuba Akpom would start but on second thoughts maybe he is still a little too inexperienced for Arsène, especially when he has Podolski and Campbell who both like to play there.
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:
If the Saints play with a full strength team (no reason why they won't) then we'll have one game on our hands. The Saints are in good enough form to give our first team a match let alone a mix and match of youth and reserve so we'll need home advantage and hope our football clicks into gear.
Fingers crossed we see the right blend and please, no injuries. Let's keep up our recent record at home in this competition and some good football along the way.
Post match goodness later.