I have a love-hate relationship with the League Cup. I love that the club price League Cup ties so that young fans can afford to attend in huge numbers: I hate that if the club gets to the final (or even the semi-final) almost none of those young fans will be able to attend because of the League’s ticketing policy for Wembley. I love that Arsenal use the League Cup as a proving ground for young players: I hate that I’ve had to watch as year after year those young players have tasted bitter defeat in this competition. I love that the League Cup is another chance at a trophy: I hate the fact that there’s a two-legged semi final stuck into January’s already congested fixtures list. I could go on but then that would probably just be something else I love to hate about the League Cup. Oh wait, yeah, there’s the name. I love that it was once sponsored by milk and thus called the Milk Cup: I hate that it’s now called the Capital One Cup, it’s the League Cup to me until they come up with a sponsor that I’m happy to spell out and whose initials aren’t COC.
Tonight’s League Cup match against Coventry is no exception to my love-hate relationship, albeit on a much smaller scale. The Emirates is sold out and those in or around the stadium should expect a lively crowd, full of mischievous young locals out for a good time at the Arsenal. There’s no television broadcast of the game that I am aware of in the States which means us Yanks won’t get to see the action (legally) but there will be a live stream of the commentary on Arsenal.com for Red Level members — kind of like the radio days of yore. Perhaps you can stick your laptop into the shell of an old tube radio, have Ma and Pa gather ’round the talky-box and pretend that it’s the the Great Depression all over again.
Today at work I will inevitably field questions from coworkers about what this League Cup is “all about.” Because a team having a chance at multiple trophies in a single season makes Americans uncomfortable, like the concept of a draw being a fair result or that there’s such a thing as “the public good”. I will patiently explain that there are various governing bodies in football and each one wants to have a trophy — just like there are various governing bodies in boxing — and that tonight’s match is a qualifying match for a chance to win the equivalent of the WBO title.
I will also explain that it’s a great chance to see (or listen to commentary about) some of Arsenal’s young talent mixed with some players who have been pushed to the periphery due to the squad depth that Arsenal suddenly find themselves blessed with. Tonight’s match is a chance for Nico Yennaris to fulfill his boyhood dream and play for Arsenal. Just 12 years ago, Yennaris was a mascot for Arsenal in a match against Coventry and today will play Coventry as a right back.
And it’s not just going to be XI youth team prospects either. Guys like Nico will be playing along side Arsenal record signing and Russian international Andrei Arshavin, French international Olivier Giroud, and England international Theo Walcott — who will all start. It should be a good mix of youth prospects and (ex/struggling) first team players.
All told, there will probably be five or six first-team debutantes in this game and they will play along with two of the most exciting young players who have already broken into the first team: Emmanuel Frimpong and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox is already well respected in England and the one time I had a chance to see him play in person looked to be a real talent. He can play anywhere in the Arsenal midfield and many have him stuck out on the wing, but I suspect that Arsene will put him in his more favored central role behind Giroud and push Theo Walcott out wide. Frimpong could start and pair with Francis Coquelin in midfield and right behind them in central defense will be Johan Djourou (captain?) and the vastly underrated Ignasi Miquel. Wide, we will probably see Yennaris on the right and Andre Santos on the left. Keeper will be… Argentinian born Damian Martinez. I know nothing about him! Exciting times.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger spoke glowingly about forward Serge Gnabry this week, saying that he’s got a physique and talent on par with Ox and Walcott. I suspect the young German will come on as a substitute in the 70th minute. If Frimpong doesn’t start, I expect he will come on at that time as well, if Arsenal have a lead.
As for Coventry, even local reporters are unsure how they will play tonight. Arsenal.com always put out a pre-match interview with a local reporter and usually they are a good source for how the club will play against Arsenal. But given that Coventry just replaced their manager a week ago, there isn’t much in the way of information to go by. Still, I expect a more traditional display from Coventry: the whole sit back and defend, two banks of four style of play that is a familiar routine for most clubs.
All in all it should be a fun match to watch. But like I said, it’s a love-hate thing because while it should have been a fun match to watch, I can’t watch it as there’s no live video available.
Oh League Cup…