Arsenal vs. West Brom: Gunners to Watch in Capital One Cup Clash
Arsenal face West Brom on Wednesday evening in the Capital One Cup, a competition that allows fans to see a mixture of most teams' rotational squad members and young starlets.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger will likely want to pour more resources than usual into the competition that represents the club's easiest chance to snap their suffocating eight-year trophy drought.
However, to the extent that rotation is possible now, Wenger will want to use players who have largely sat on the bench or been injured since the start of the season and give his regular workhorses some rest.
Unfortunately, there are not a plethora of options at his disposal.
There are some youngsters in the squad who deserve to be given their chance against opposition that will test, but not overpower, them.
But Arsenal's Achilles heel may still be their lack of depth and accompanying injury record. Several key contributors, such as Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, of course, Abou Diaby are injured.
That quantity of injured players would take a toll on any side in the world, but, as a practical matter, it gives Wenger fewer options when he would really like to take advantage of his squad depth.
Still, there are several players who are almost certain to rotate into the squad.
First, keep an eye on who relieves Wojciech Szczesny in goal. Lukasz Fabianski, with his years of Premier League experience and run of decent form at the end of last season, will probably get the start. If he puts in a stellar performance, Wenger will once again have a selection conundrum.
Similarly, Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal have cases to make in their respective positions.
The former remains the club's captain, but he has not been picked ahead of Laurent Koscielny or Per Mertesacker for months, and is still regaining fitness after suffering a back injury during preseason.
Vermaelen has to prove that he can avoid catastrophic lapses in concentration, which have seen Arsenal's defense break down in the past. He'll need a superb game to leapfrog the two center-backs in front of him.
Gibbs has shed concerns about his injury record and is emerging as Ashley Cole's successor on the English national team. Monreal has been quite effective when he's played (mostly as a winger late in matches), but he will need to raise his level if he is to advance in the pecking order.
Mikel Arteta is a virtual certainty to resume his usual spot right in front of the defense, after returning from a calf injury last weekend.
After receiving some fitness-building minutes against Stoke and participating in full training for five days, Arteta should be able to complete a significant portion of the match. Just do not expect him to be quite as sharp as usual.
Depending upon how audacious Wenger wishes to be with his midfield rotation, he could hand Gedion Zelalem, the new jewel of the youth academy, his first competitive appearance after an impressive preseason. It will be interesting to see how he responds to his first senior opposition of real quality.
Up front, Wenger has a few more choices. Ryo Miyaichi might well start his first game for Arsenal. Miyaichi, perhaps more than any other Arsenal player, needs to put in a decent showing to convince the manager that he is worthy of more consistent selection.
But we're all going to be keeping a keen eye on Nicklas Bendtner.
The infamously egotistical Dane has fallen out with Arsenal on multiple occasions, and has been loaned out during the last two seasons. He last played in an Arsenal shirt more than two years ago.
As chance would have it, however, he is Arsenal's only comparable backup to Olivier Giroud. Wenger plainly stated this week that Bendtner can be an "unstoppable striker" when his mind is right.
The striker earlier pledged his full commitment to Arsenal after he failed to secure a move elsewhere before the transfer window closed (via The BBC).
Bendtner possesses enough talent to be a striker at a top-flight club somewhere in Europe, perhaps at a Champions League club. Perhaps now that he has something to prove, he will shed his crippling megalomania.
It will be the most interesting thing to watch in a match filled with things to look out for.
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