A couple of big-name matchups in 2nd legs of domestic cup competitions coming up later today: (1) Carling Cup semifinal - Manchester City vs Liverpool - 8:45pm CET / 2:45pmET / 7:45pm GMT (USA TV: FSC); and (2) Copa dey Rey quarterfinal - Barcelona vs Real Madrid - 10pm CET / 4pm ET / 9pm GMT (USA TV: ESPN Deportes, GolTV, ESPN3.com)
Even before the quarterfinal draw for the Carling Cup paired Arsenal with Manchester City (a.k.a., the Death Squad), many speculated that the reserve teamers logging time on the big stage would soon cede their places to first team players in a push for the silverware. The best then would seek loan opportunies at smaller clubs in the Premier League, in lower leagues or, less ideally, on the continent.
Arsenal has not yet faced the Death Squad in the league, but if they can annihilate the team that annihilated us 8-2, it’s hard to be too confident of much more of a Carling Cup run for any Arsenal player. Manchester City could rest Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and David Silva and continue to perma-rest Tevez and STILL expect to win at the Emirates, no matter which team Arsenal fields.
The youth players need playing time, and Arsenal can’t necessarily afford to have them ramp up to Premier League speed on its watch. The team concedes enough goals from errors as it is. The lesson of Jack Wilshere is the model. His successful loan spell at Bolton provided the final piece of his development, playing week in, week out. Academy players graduate to the reserves and while reserve fixtures are vital to their development and match fitness, eventually they have to show what they can do when the stakes are higher and the opposition fiercer. At a certain point they have to play and prove they have what it takes. Only at such point can Wenger decide if they’re ready to graduate to the first team.
Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris lead the list. The team’s official site still lists them as reserve teamers, although both seem closer to the first team than the frozen-out veteran Sebastian Squillaci. Miquel and Yennaris both started the Carling Cup victory over Bolton and played very well. Both are expected to seek loan deals in search of match play, although Wenger may decide to keep them in the squad to blood them himself, depending on the injury situation. Bolton substitutes Oguzhan Ozyakup and Daniel Boateng will likely also seek temporary pastures new, as will Chuks Aneke and Sanchez Watt, who sat on the bench at Bolton. No word yet on expected destinations.
But what of the current loanees? The hodge podge of players Wenger couldn’t offload during the summer (Bendtner, Vela, Denilson), secure work visas for (Joel Campbell, Pedro Botelho, Wellington, Samuel Galindo), and near first-teamers (Henri Lansbury, Kyle Bartley, James Shea) have been proving their mettle on the field, domestically and abroad. Some have impressed and some have not. The Offload Three, in particular, have done little of note. In fact, Denilson and Vela have failed to score a goal between them. No shocker, there.
But without further ado:
Nicklas Bendtner, The Greatest Player of All Time, has scored two goals in seven for the Black Cats. Against Manchester United, he failed to connect with a late Sebastian Larsson cross that could have equalized the match instead of losing 1-0. Bendtner needs to have a stellar season at Sunderland, as he’s burned the bridges home with anti-Arsenal sentiments in the press, fueled as ever by his overactive ego. One hopes he does do well, if only to cash in on him at the first opportunity. He’s better than Marouane Chamakh, but you don’t get a medal for standards that low. Sunderland currently finds itself 15th in Premier League.
Out-of-favor Denilson the outcast has zero goals in 10 appearances for Sao Paulo. Sounds pretty much right. Arsenal will continue to have trouble unloading him at this rate. Sao Paulo is in 8th in the Brazilian Serie A, with 5 games remaining.
Former golden boy Carlos Vela has scored no goals for Real Sociedad in his 7 appearances. As with Denilson, not much changed there. The scoreless striker will continue to be difficult to offload. And Real Sociedad desperately needs the goals. Rayo Vallecano just thrashed them 4-0 to send them tumbling to last in La Liga. Unsurprisingly, Mexico chose not to call Vela up for the upcoming match against Serbia due to his abysmal form. Arsenal supporters had high hopes for Vela, as with Denilson. Now they just want to see them off the club roster.
Henri Lansbury has one goal in five appearances for West Ham United. He missed out on the 2-0 defeat of Hull, but the Hammers currently occupy 2nd in the Championship. With possible promotion to the Premier League, though it’s far too soon to make any predictions, Lansbury may be learning to enjoy the taste of success and will probably be ready for the first team.
Central defender and former reserve team captain Kyle Bartley returned from a lengthy injury to log his second appearance for Rangers, who top the Scottish Premier League. Rangers employed the center back in midfield in the 3-1 defeat Dundee at Ibrox. If Bartley gets more playing time, he could also make a strong case for the first team.
The Costa Rican teen Joel Campbell has scored two in nine for FC Lorient in Ligue 1. Arsene’s go-to French loan club is in 7th place. Impressively, Campbell has been shortlisted in Tuttosport’s annual “Golden Boy” award (think poor man’s Youth Player of the Year). However, he competes with Arsenal’s own Jack Wilshere, who took second last year, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, not to mention ultra-heavyweights Eden Hazard, Mario Gotze, Xherdan Shaqiri, Thiago, and Phil Jones. Once he plays more matches with the national team, he’ll be eligible for a work visa. Fortunately, he’s been called up for the upcoming matches against Panama (Nov. 11) and Spain (Nov. 15), so he’s on the right track.
The Bolivian Samuel Galindo has no goals in four matches with Gimnastic De Tarragona. Even after a 5-0 home victory over CD Sabadell, the team languishes in 21st in the Spanish Segunda Division, but the victory did see them claw its way from the bottom of the table.
Wellington picked the right or the wrong year to get loaned out to Levante. The Cinderella story topped La Liga and now sits 4th. However, the Brazilian hasn’t seen a second of playing time, hardly ideal for a loan spell.
James Shea has made three appearances in goal for Dagenham and Redbridge, who sit at a pitiful 22nd in League Two.
Currently injured, Pedro Botelho has scored one in eight appearances for Rayo Vallecano in La Liga. The team occupies eighth in the table.
In related news, Manuel Almunia returned from his emergency month-long loan spell at West Ham, where he reportedly played well. With Robert Green healthy again, he has returned to London to hope against hope he can get back into at least a backup goalkeeper role. And most of the Arsenal fan base will hope those wishes do not come true.
Arsenal travels to West London for the early match on Saturday to face off against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (7:30AM EST on ESPN2). It’s the sternest test since the desperately needed improvement of late, and the result will reveal whether the team has finally shaken the pernicious monkey off its back or if the Red and Whites really are a defensive shambles with only one dependable goalscorer.
It’s not a make-or-break match, per se, but the result carries more weight than simply three points. Arsenal has finally cobbled together a string of results in the league, in Europe and most recently in the Carling Cup, but all that could soon come to a screeching halt. Most people are expecting to hear that ear-splitting screech. However, if Arsenal can emerge with a draw or perhaps lose but put in a convincing performance, things really could be looking up. A win would cause half of North London to flip out, undoubtedly, but at some point one needs to be realistic.
To start with the positives, Arsenal top their Champions League group at the midway point and have only Olympiakos away, with Dortmund and Marseille set to travel to the Emirates, where Arsenal has racked up the majority of its wins. The team has clawed its way to seventh place after an abysmal start to the season (1-1-3). Robin van Persie is still far and away to go-to man for goals, but Gervinho, Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin have started scoring a few themselves, in addition to some excellent assists. Gervinho played an outstanding match against Stoke, involved in all three goals, scoring the first off an incredible chip from Ramsey. Meanwhile, many positives emerged in the 2-1 Carling Cup win over Bolton on Tuesday. Of which more right now.
For starters, Thomas Vermaelen captained the side on his long-awaited return. Steely-eyed and solid as ever, he commanded his area as if he never left. His recovery means that all the center halves are again fit. It’s surreal to even write that. As any statistician knows, the last time Arsenal had all its center halves fit is a month and year that does not translate in modern alphanumerics. Heady times. Even backup center halves Ignasi Miquel and Sébastien Squillaci are fit (both of whom played Tuesday, and Squillaci wasn’t even half bad for once).
After the match, news broke that Vermaelen may have suffered a calf injury. Cue Bacary Sagna leg-break despair. But then he declared himself fit again (rejoice!), which could put him in the frame for Chelsea. One would forecast the bench as his most likely destination, with the Mertesacker-Koscielny axis in good working order at present, and rested. But Vermaelen is our best defender, and Chelsea away is when you’d like to have your best defenders. It would also free up Laurent Koscielny for right back. Wenger definitely has some decisions to make.
Arsenal caught a serious case of the Blues on Sunday, for sure.
I wasn’t terribly surprised by the 2-1 defeat to the old boys from the second city in the Carling Cup final. Birmingham can hold down the fort when they need to. The defense is often well-organized, stubborn, and capable of scoring on set pieces; the midfield is scrappy and confident; the forward line, while less than imaginative, can obviously take advantage of the odd bounce of the ball.
I’m not the first, nor the last, to praise Blues’ keeper Ben Foster. He was everywhere and anywhere on Sunday, playing as if it were his last match on earth. Quite a superb solo effort by England’s future number two!
As for the Gunners: With Cesc and Walcott nursing minor injuries, I had hoped against hope that Rosicky would remain on the bench, that Nasri would move to the attacking, central midfield role, and (gasp?) that Bendter would start on the right wing. Alas, it was as I predicted: Rosicky in the middle, Nasri on the right…
Despite Rosicky’s lack of ambition, and Van Persie’s yet-to-be disclosed injury–which forced him to exit the match prematurely–the loss nestled itself quite comfortably on the shoulders of Arsenal’s goalkeeper and left-center back. (I can’t even mention them by name. Not that I’m ashamed, I just don’t have the energy to look up Eastern-European vowel and consonant combinations…)
I can’t help but wonder if Arsene Wenger might share a bit of the blame for Sunday’s loss. For three years, Gooners have clamored for solid, experienced, goalkeepers and center halves/backs. The signing of Vermaelen was a wonderstroke, but a niggling, mysterious, Achilles injury has rendered him unavailable until hell freezes over. William Gallas was a delicate genius, but now he cries for the Spurs. Sol Campbell had a brief spell of nostalgic leadership for the Gunners late last year, but now he warms the cheap seats at St. James’ Park.
Two semifinals gone (one actually exciting, sorry Hammers fans for that tough extra time loss) and we’re on to Wembley at the end of February with Birmingham City and Arsenal for the league cup. This one’s been traditionally contested by mid-table teams since it’s seen as a mostly meaningless achievement, that is until they changed the format to reward the victor with a Europa League berth (previously winners would gain entry to the UEFA Cup tourney).
That sort of reward would certainly drive a team like Birmingham (who have in fact won the cup once, back in 1963), but what of the Arsenal, whose manager famously remarked back in 2009, “If you win the League Cup, can you honestly say you have won a trophy?” Looks like a couple more years without any hardware have changed the man’s mind, as the competition was once described by the Frenchman as “…a competition for our younger players. If I don’t play them here where would I play them?” You may have noticed, by the by, that the team he’s been sending out in the competition this season is pretty close to his starting XI for premiership action.
Still, it’s good to see Arsenal actually trying to win what has been deemed the “Worthless Cup” and the “Mickey Mouse Cup”. The idea being tossed around is that any cup win is just the spark the team needs to bring more trophies, and quick. We’ll know before the final if they’ll be proceeding toward the most sought after trophy around (Champions League, ‘natch), though it looks unlikely they’ll get by high-flying Barcelona.
Now, a quick historical assessment of Birmingham City vs Arsenal. The teams have met 116 times in all competitions, the first time being back in 1905. Aside for a spell in in the 1950s, Arsenal have dominated the meetings, and own a record of 54 wins and 34 draws to their 28 losses. Mostly known as a tough-tackling, defense-first side, the West Midlands club have been improving their football the past couple of seasons though they find themselves currently on the cusp of relegation. They may be most notable to Arsenal fans for Taylor’s horrific ankle breaking tackle on Eduardo. We haven’t shown the full extent of the injury here, but you’re welcome to do a quick youtube search to see the lad’s foot flap around backwards.
The Carling (i.e., League) Cup is certainly a lesser competition in England than the FA Cup, but it’s hardware nonetheless. The quarterfinals just kicked off in a matter of minutes, with two matches today (West Ham-Man U & Arsenal-Wigan), and two more tomorrow (Birmingham City-Aston Villa & Ipswich Town-West Bromwich Albion). All games start at 7:45pm in England (which corresponds to 2:45pm ET).
One match each day is available for viewing here in the US. Today, West Ham-Man U is on FSP, as well streaming on foxsoccer.tv. Tomorrow, the same goes Birmingham City-Aston Villa.
Carling Cup Quarterfinals
Tuesday 30th November
|Arsenal||vs||Wigan Athletic FC|
|Kick-off at 19:45 at Emirates Stadium|
|West Ham United||vs||Manchester United|
|Kick-off at 19:45 at Upton Park|
Wednesday 1st December
|Birmingham City||vs||Aston Villa|
|Kick-off at 19:45 at St. Andrews|
|Ipswich Town||vs||West Bromwich Albion|
|Kick-off at 19:45 at Portman Road|
The Carling Cup is traditionally a time when managers run out a few reserve players they feel might just be on the cusp of first-team action. This week was no different, and of the limited amount of games we saw, there were a few significant standouts. Jack Wilshere for Arsenal should be no surprise, as the 18 yr-old has played more than a few minutes of league action this season already. And admittedly, we were psyched to see Man United’s Portuguese signing Bebe sent on with 16 minutes left in the match. The 20 yr-old mostly ran around chasing the ball all over the pitch at first, then seemed to settle a little. He’s big, fast, and not shy about uncorking a shot from the corner of the box.
Now lets focus on the most exciting game of the round, without actually talking about the game. Chelsea sent out 20 yr-old Patrick van Aanholt in left back against Newcastle, and the pacy Dutchman quickly got on the scoresheet. More impressively, he set up Anelka’s first goal as Chelsea pressed late in the second half. Van Aanholt simply passed to himself up the wing, then ran forward with some impressive speed to send a really smart cross to Anelka arriving in the box.
The Blues also put 17 yr-old, Oxford-born Joshua McEachran into the center midfield position in the second half. Either by way of composure beyond his years, or the impetuousness of youth, the kid was consistently on the ball, making defenders miss and sending intelligent balls forward. 17 years old! He is very slight though, and I can’t imagine him being thrown on in a serious match until he gains some muscle on that tiny frame.
Chelsea fans may say, well what about this Daniel Sturridge everyone is talking about? He looked greedy, and not in an “I’m a striker and I shoot” sort of fashion. He had a couple of opportunities to send a ball across the box to well-positioned teammates, but decided instead to fire at goal from a tight angle. Unimpressive. Granted, I only watched him while Chelsea were playing with 10 men, so I shouldn’t judge him harshly on his movement, but he didn’t seem to be finding the space he needed to make anything happen.