Last season, Arsenal made it all the way to the final of the league cup. The final itself was one to forget for supporters, but the journey to the final was certainly one of the highlights of the season.
This season, under new management, the side look to go one-step further and put the disappointment of the Manchester City defeat at the climax of last season’s cup behind them.
This league cup campaign begins at home against Brentford, where Unai Emery’s team look to continue their winning run and make it 6 games on the trot.
Brentford, under manager Dean Smith, are having a great start to the new season in the second tier, and are looking like promotion contenders even at this early stage of the season. They are currently just outside of the Championship play-off positions in 7th place.
Championship clubs have already played two matches in the league cup, and Brentford got through Southend United away (4-2) and Cheltenham Town in their home ground of Griffin Park (1-0).
This is not a game that has been played often, or indeed, recently – the last time Arsenal played The Bees was a 1-0 league win all the way back in 1947!
In terms of team news, large changes can be expected. Both the league cup and the group stages of the Europa League represent great opportunities to blood new talent and allow fringe players a chance to make an impact.
With that being the case, it looks likely that the young man who lit up the pre-season, attacking midfielder Emile Smith-Rowe will be making his full debut on Wednesday.
The 18-year-old introduced himself as a senior Arsenal player during the Singapore leg of the preseason, when he scored a goal against Europa League champions Atletico Madrid, and then followed that up with a stellar performance against French champions PSG, where he scored a goal and an assist.
Days later, Emery rewarded the Englishman with a long-term contract at the club, and now, Emile-Rowe looks set to make his competitive full debut, after making a short cameo against Vorskla in Europe.
Joining him in the team will likely be Bernd Leno, who himself got his first start against the aforementioned Vorskla. With Cech looking like one of Arsenal’s best players in the win over Everton last weekend, the German stopper will be looking to impress and ensure his name is kept in the fold for first-team league action.
Up-front, while some of the first-team players may be rested, there will likely still be a presence from players like Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whether they are utilized from the start, or called upon in the second half.
Last season, Arsenal were knocked out in their first match in the FA Cup after winning it the previous year. Despite making it all the way to the final in last year’s league cup, if the Gunners rest on their laurels, they’ll find themselves exiting the competition early.
With a fine league campaign imperative to restating Arsenal’s place in the hierarchy at the very top of English football and get automatic Champions League qualification, cup campaigns may take a backseat in Emery’s first season. That being said, a good cup campaign is never a bad thing, with last season acting as a good example – without the Europa League and league cup runs, last season was somewhat of a damp squib.
As mentioned, Brentford’s quality is clear to see, so while Emery should rightfully play some fringe player’s in this outing, they will need to be in good form to see off The Bees and make it to the 4th round of the cup.
Playing up front for them is striker Neil Maupay, and the Frenchman represents a notable threat. In just 7 matches, the 22-year-old has picked up 8 goals, and is an early contender for the second divisions golden boot.
In the middle of the park, Scotsman Lewis MacLeod is the marshal, and while providing defensive solidity, he also poses a nuisance for defender going forward, and has been known to chip in with a goal or an assist.
If Arsenal can keep a lid on Brentford going forward, they should have the quality to beat them at the back. The Championship team were dismantled 3-1 by Frank Lampard’s Derby County in their previous game, with defenders Chris Mepham and Julian Jeanvier performing poorly in the match.
In terms of team news, after going off injured in the first half against Everton, Sokratis Papastathopolous had a lot of Arsenal supporters worried, but thankfully it appears his knock was not overly significant. That being said, he is expected to miss out on this game, but should return for next weekend’s game against Watford in the league.
Fellow defenders Laurent Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson and Sead Kolasinac all absent through injury, with Koscielny approaching his expected return date.
Arsenal have only been eliminated at this stage of the League Cup once in the previous 15 seasons – that loss coming in a particularly unmemorable 2-1 loss to Southampton at the Emirates in 2014-15.
While Dean Smith has been getting lots of attention from other clubs due to his Championship performances but when the away boss has faced Premier League opposition he has not seen success. In the five times in his managerial career that he has faced-up against top flight teams, he conceded at least three goals in every game. He will be looking to change this stat at the Emirates, but his counterpart will be hoping that he can add to Smith’s Premier League plight.
Speaking prior to the game, Smith (quite funnily) said "I would rather have had Macclesfield at home but unfortunately we've got to travel to the Emirates which I'm sure all our supporters will be looking forward to,", before noting that Macclesfield were the lowest ranked team in the draw and that he meant no disrespect.
Arsenal have won this competition two times, and came within a match of making it a third last season. The League Cup represent Emery’s earliest chance of adding some silverware as Arsenal manager, and while it is not the club’s main priority, he will be eager to do well in the tournament, starting on Wednesday.
Brentford have enough attacking talent through Maupay to cause last year’s finalists a problem in defence, but Arsenal should have enough quality to get through to the next round.
Arsenal play host to Brentford in the 3rd round of the league cup on Wednesday the 26th of September at the Emirates Stadium, with kick-off scheduled for 7.45pm.