The crazy League Cup is back. This competition has been pretty crazy to Gunners fans, in recent seasons. We lost to newly promoted Wigan in 2006, won 6-3 at Anfield, lost the final to Chelsea that year, beat Blackburn 3-2 at Ewood Park, lost the final in 2011 so cruelly and won 7-5 at Reading after going 4-0 down at one stage.
Watching Arsenal in the League Cup is a joy for the neutrals, but nothing short of roller coaster ride for us Gooners. It provides some of those crazy moments in what is otherwise a normal league season.
Tonight’s game sees us travel to the north to face a Bradford side, that finds itself 5th in League Two, and already playing in its 31st game of the season, thanks to their runs in the cups. Despite being expelled from the FA Cup for fielding an ineligible player, they have progressed well in the St.Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as well as in the Capitol One Cup, in which they ousted Wigan in the last round.
The Gunners arrive on the back of a morale boosting 2-0 win over West Brom. After couple of weeks of indifferent form, including draws at Aston Villa and Everton, and losses to Swansea and Olympiakos, the West Brom win was one that displayed some resoluteness and some spirit from the Gunners.
Despite Bradford being over 60 places below in the league system from the Gunners, Arsene Wenger has urged caution from his team.
We have to win the game in normal time. They have gained confidence in these types of competitions and confidence plays a big part in that. Hopefully we won’t need penalties,Bradford are a force in their league, they are a team who play very good football and very efficient as well. We take them very seriously. They are very efficient at set pieces, so we will have to be very strong on that.Valley Parade was a difficult place to go to when we played there in the Premier League,It is a passionate place with a very special atmosphere as well. That’s what you will get again in this match.I believe when you go to places like this, you need to tell your players that it will be as difficult as a Premier League game, and it will be.Therefore you want to prepare yourself. If you don’t do your mental work before the game, you have no chance and that is where our job lies.
Lower league sides make it hard for the Premier League sides by setting up resolutely in defence, usually pressing hard for the ball and working hard. In short, making it uncomfortable for the top sides on what usually are boggy pitches. Much of the same can be expected today from Bradford.
The last time the Gunners faced the Bantams at the Valley Parade was in 2001, when they were still in the Premier League. The Gunners drew 1-1 on that ocassion, with a young Ashley Cole scoring. The previous year, the Bantams beat Arsenal 2-1.
And, there is still one player in the Arsenal lineup who has played at the Valley Parade around the same time. Andriy Arshavin made his Zenit debut against Bradford, in 2000, in an Intertoto Cup clash. Zenit won the game 3-0, and the tie 4-0 on aggregate.
Right, team news then. Olivier Giroud has been ruled out with a back problem. Walcott, Koscielny, Santos, Diaby and Fabianski are all out. It’s been a while since we heard or saw Johan Djourou. Rumours are that he was last spotted at Area 51, and helping the Americans in finding more about aliens. Djourou, who has had encounters with the likes of Messi, is helping them in their investigation. Just kidding, he’s out!
Vito Mannone is back in the squad, and I expect him to start. Thomas Vermaelen started against Olympiakos so I have a hunch Per Mertesacker will partner the Squid in the centre of defence. Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris are out which means young Jernade Meade and Carl Jenkinson will be the full-backs.
In midfield, Arshavin returns to where it all began. I am expecting starts for Coquelin, Rosicky and maybe even the impressive Eisfeld as well. The German has scored 8 goals for the youth sides. Goal machine Marrouane Chamakh will start, as well, with Podolski and Gervinho on the bench.
It will be a dream come true for Eisfeld to play along side his idol Tomas Rosicky, who like Eisfeld, arrived from Dortmund. Eisfeld was quoted as saying
I have a shot of Tomas Rosicky in my room and it is fantastic to play with him. I have never met him but in my opinion he is a great player and I focus on his game. I watched every game he played in Dortmund but I play a little bit differently.
Bradford have their injury concerns too. Former West Ham duo of Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines are out, while Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies are out as well.
Here is how I expect the teams to lineup.
It is going to be a cracker of a contest, between two completely different footballing sides, enjoying completely different fortunes, which makes cup games like these so magical! Bradford lie 4th in League Two, and pushing for automatic promotion, and are deemed to be doing well, while Arsenal, in 7th place in the Premier League, are fighting for Champions League qualification, are deemed to be a club in crisis!
Bradford manager Phil Parkinson, supposedly an Arsenal fan, will be relishing this historic moment in Bradford’s history. He was approached by the club to take up a scouting role, last season when he was manager at Charlton, and was instrumental in the early part of Carl Jenkinson’s career at the Addicks.
If rumours are to be believed, he was also offered the role of assistant manager after the departure of Pat Rice, but opted for full time management. He has called for the Bradford fans to be vocal and enjoy the occasion.
Enjoy the game wherever you are!
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