It may be the pick of the Capital One Cup fourth round ties, but Arsenal’s meeting with Chelsea on Tuesday will be an examination of which of the two English giants have the best squad, rather than the best team.
In a competition that will undeniably be at the bottom of the list of priorities for managers of both clubs at this stage of the season, Jose Mourinho is faced with a further selection dilemma. Chelsea played an intense Premier League battle against Manchester City on Sunday, just over 48 hours before their meeting with Arsenal at the Emirates. Such squeezed scheduling has understandably been criticized by Mourinho, who initially claimed he would field an under-21 development team. That threat has been withdrawn, but he confirmed that no player who featured in the win over City will be selected.
That might appear a virtual submission to defeat, but a look at Chelsea’s options show that there will still be ample talent on show. Indeed, the lineup will be a testament to the impressive depth of the squad assembled at Stamford Bridge. The match could well present an opportunity for the likes of Juan Mata, David Luiz, Kevin de Bruyne, Cesar Azpilicueta, Willian, Michael Essien and John Mikel Obi to show that they warrant a regular berth in Mourinho’s first team.
Given the two performances by Fernando Torres in the past week, there is particular incentive for whoever gets the nod over Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba to impress. Eto’o looked sharp when scoring his first goal since his summer move in the recent victory over Cardiff, although Ba has made just three appearances this season and has yet to score. Ba, of course, was denied the chance to move on loan to Arsenal on September’s transfer deadline day.
Having had the extra rest following their game against Crystal Palace on Saturday lunchtime, Arsenal will not be forced into the same overhaul of their starting lineup. Still, wholesale changes are expected. And, contrary to Mourinho’s initial threat, it is Arsenal’s lineup that will in probability have a less experienced look.
While they have started the season in superb form, Arsenal’s strength in depth has been questioned and certainly they cannot yet compete with Chelsea or Manchester City in that regard. With Mathieu Flamini injured, Mikel Arteta suspended -- following his red card against Palace -- and even Emmanuel Frimpong apparently ruled out, Arsenal have no natural holding midfielder to turn to. Up front, Nicklas Bendtner is the only genuine option to replace the overly relied upon Olivier Giroud. Giving the squad a youthful look, the trio of Isaac Hayden, Ryo Miyachi and Serge Gnabry -- if he recovers from a back problem -- will all be involved. All three are aged 20 or under.
Successive matches in quick succession against Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United could well mean Wenger calling on few if any of the players who started in the 2-0 victory over Palace. Still, Wenger can call upon Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Nacho Monreal, Tomas Rosicky and Carl Jenkinson to add some experience and quality to the lineup.
That, along with the confidence and belief that appears to be shooting through the veins of the whole squad at the Emirates should ensure an evenly fought contest against Chelsea. As with Arsenal’s previous League Cup tie against West Brom, extra time and penalties could well be in store.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea