With the absence of European football, a good run in the FA Cup, as well as League Cup, is not a desire, but a necessity for Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta will be asking himself various questions before settling on a starting 11 that will head out on Wednesday night against AFC Wimbledon. The lineup against the League One side will not be a simple task, as it might seem. Arteta cannot afford to choose just the youngsters, while he will also have to control the urge of playing the strongest 11.
That is majorly down to the fact that the Gunners’ clash with their North London rivals Tottenham at the weekend. Getting inside the mind of the Spanish manager is impossible. Thus, I’ll pick a team that I believe will be strong enough to cruise past their counterparts in the midweek clash, but not strong enough to have leggy players on the weekend.
Goalkeeper: Leno to regain his place, just for now
With Aaron Ramsdale looks set to have solidified his place in the starting berth at the Emirates Stadium, Bernd Leno is the most probable to be between the posts for the Carabao Cup matches.
The Englishman has been impressive since making the switch to North London from Sheffield United. Thus, it looks unlikely that he will be dropped for the North London derby, which makes it simple for Leno to start against AFC Wimbledon.
Ramsdale has had a good start to his Arsenal career
😏 Aaron Ramsdale has kept as many clean sheets in his first three Arsenal appearances (3) as Bernd Leno has managed in his previous 14 combined pic.twitter.com/HNFXp7DwzI
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 20, 2021
Similar to the goalkeeping position, the back four can look completely different to what Arsenal supporters witnessed in the game against Norwich and more recently, Burnley. With one eye on the blockbuster match at the weekend, Mikel Arteta will certainly look at the squad players, who have seen little action since the start of the campaign.
I’ve been underwhelmed with Pablo Mari’s performances, but wouldn’t hesitate to give him a start against the League One side. In my starting 11, Rob Holding will partner the Spaniard, with Cedric and Nuno Tavares on the flanks.
Midfield: Maitland-Niles to be given the nod at the centre of the park
In front of them, I would never want Thomas Partey to get injured in a Carabao Cup third-round clash. Thus, I’ll go with a midfield pivot of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Albert Sambi Lokonga. It’s clear that the duo ooze calmness (which can be a good and a bad thing) at the centre of the pitch.
Lokonga x Maitland-Niles is the most relaxed pivot I’ve ever seen lmao
— James. (@afcjxmes) September 18, 2021
Bringing off Lokonga around the 60th-minute mark and putting in the highly-rated academy player Charlie Patino would be on my pre-match notes. The young midfielder has been excellent at the youth level. And it’s just a matter of “when”, not “if”, the 17-year-old Patino becomes a fully-fledged starter for one of the most successful clubs in England.
Patino has been earmarked as a future Arsenal regular
— Arsenal Academy (@ArsenalAcademy) September 12, 2021
Next up is the front three that will play behind the striker. This is where Arteta has more than enough tools to deploy. With the permanent addition of Martin Odegaard, the former Manchester City assistant can chop and change formations mid-game to his liking.
But, I don’t expect and wouldn’t want to see the trio of Emile Smith Rowe, Odegaard and Bukayo Saka all start together. That should be saved up for the all-important match against Tottenham.
Thus, Gabriel Martinelli, Odegaard, and Nicolas Pepe would be my choice for the Carabao Cup fixture against AFC Wimbledon. The Norwegian and the Ivorian have shown signs of promise lately and subbing them off early would be on top of my agenda. Folarin Balogun can certainly do with some minutes, be it on the wings or through the centre.
With Alexandre Lacazette having just made one appearance this season despite looking sharp in the pre-season, everything seems clear as to who should spearhead the attack. Eddie Nketiah is another player who would be pleased if given a run-out against AFC Wimbledon.
Defence: Cedric, Holding, Mari, Tavares
Midfield: Maitland-Niles, Lokonga (-> Patino)
Pepe (->Balogun), Odegaard (->Smith Rowe), Martinelli
For AD for the latest Matchday updates on Arsenal.