One of the (few) joys of the Carling/Capital One/League Cup has been the introduction of promising prospects to the brave souls who dare venture into dark caverns in order to watch their heroes in action, as television seems to have ignored the competition this side of the Atlantic.
I’ll surely never forget Carlos Vela’s superb hat trick against Sheffield United a number of years back, and the ridiculous win over Reading more recently was one last, fleeting reminder of what we thought we had with Marouane Chamakh.
However, the faithful Gunners fans who turn out and watch football’s equivalent of Canadian Idol have mostly been deprived of the opportunity to find out about the promising youth in recent years. The competition has taken on a slightly different tone for Wenger and company as tough draws, increased value in winning thanks to several lean years, and a larger first team squad have pressed many players who would normally get a rest into action.
Luckily for the youngsters, tomorrow’s match against Sheffield Wednesday may present just the right opportunity to get a rare first team appearance. With the first team having faced a taxing week and looking at trips to Swansea and Munich forthcoming, regulars such as Alexis, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Mesut Ozil will most definitely stay home.
In their place will come a few players with high prospects at the club. Alex Iwobi, a left-sided winger/forward is the most likely to take a first team bow. Iwobi was mightily impressive in a few appearances during the pre-season and should be rewarded given a paucity of options in that position.
Ben Scheaf, who arrived from Fulham last year, and Glen Kamara have been tipped to make starts as well, while Arsenal fans are no doubt hoping to see Krystian Bielik as well, after the fanfare following his arrival from Poland last year.
As you would expect, Arsenal has a fair stockpile of prospects, though many are out on loan. Unfortunately, in recent years it has been difficult for those on the fringes of the first team to get a strong look-in.
Normally, players such as Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem would be bankable starters for a game like this, but have been shunted out on loan and therefore cannot feature. Unfortunately that can also mean ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for players like this and they could go down the road of others such as Vela, Oguzhan Ozyakup and Benik Afobe who have had to go away permanently and find success elsewhere.
The players who do slot in tomorrow will be carrying a huge weight of expectation to perform from Arsene Wenger. Mathieu Debuchy lost his spot at right back after injury last year and faces a large task usurping Hector Bellerin now. Debuchy is an experienced French international, but he hardly looked the part in the last round against Sp*rs, so he can ill afford another disappointing performance.
Similarly, Calum Chambers must feel the pressure, along with projected left back and fellow Englishman Kieran Gibbs. Chambers faces an uphill battle to find his preferred position, let alone a spot in the team, while Gibbs has done little wrong, but, similar to Debuchy, finds himself behind a player in the form of his life in Natxo Monreal.
However, the young player with the most to prove fits pretty well every area discussed here, and that is Joel Campbell. The Costa Rican international has spent a lot of time on loan since being purchased from Deportivo Saprissa four years ago, mostly because of Visa requirements that wouldn’t allow him to play in England. During his time in Turkey he impressed greatly, and a strong World Cup in 2014 put his name on the lips of a lot of Arsenal fans. Unfortunately his 2014-15 season was greatly disappointing, despite appearing a few times, including against Galatasaray in December in the Champions League.
The time is nigh for Campbell with Danny Welbeck on the sidelines and gangly striker Yaya Sanogo out on loan. Arsenal’s need for an impact player off the bench calls for someone quick, tricky and able to score with few chances. Campbell is two of those things already and some goals tomorrow would go a long way to showing he can be the third.
In short, tomorrow should be interesting. Wednesday are no pushovers, sitting in the top-half of the Championship right now. But that’s all the more ammunition for this group to step up and force themselves into the reckoning in league games going forward.