Practicality must prevail if Arsenal hope to overcome Manchester City in Carabao Cup showpiece

If Arsenal approach Sunday’s Carabao Cup final in anything like the same way they did against Ostersund they face humiliation.

Where the plucky Swedes were able to score two goals and fashion opportunities enough for a few more, Manchester City are more than capable of scoring half-a-dozen and putting the game beyond the Gunners inside 20 minutes, and that is a worry.

Though Pep Guardiola’s side are in something of a mini-slump – by their high standards at least – they remain a supremely talented side who are almost certain to land the Premier League title this season, and perhaps even the Champions League.

Complacency and apathy are just not an option, not even for a five-minute spell.

Clearly, the XI who took to the field on Thursday thought themselves above the likes of Ostersund and had convinced themselves of safe passage through to the last 16. That appalling attitude very nearly cost them dearly.

I would like to think that, for Sunday’s trip to Wembley, such rank carelessness will not be a problem again – not that it should have been in any event.

Despite being in the relative comfort of the Emirates, Thursday’s performance had all the hallmarks of Arsenal away from home this season. It was turgid, lacking in impetus, and defensively chaotic. For me, only Mohammed Elneny emerged from the match with any credit. He was tireless and dogged throughout and, limited though he is, showed his worth by tracking back, always being available, and making plenty of tackles and interceptions.

We need XI performances of that calibre on Sunday, even if it requires that we sacrifice a little of our attacking fluidity in order to achieve it.

It is crucial that we give ourselves the best possible chance to come away with the cup, and that means staying in the game for as long as possible. As is their nature, City will look to have the game won as early as possible and, should they get more than a goal ahead, you can’t help feeling that it absolutely will be.

If Arsenal can stay in touch until the final quarter, we will have the platform to open things up and play the way we want to play – with verve and attacking gusto.

A staggering lack of concentration and discipline allowed Ostersund to play the sort of match they wanted to play on Thursday. Poor movement and passing meant the Swedes could press high and force mistakes, break quickly and bear down on a defence that, as ever, found itself woefully exposed.

Graham Potter was rightly applauded for the way he set his team up to capitalise on these well-known Arsenal frailties but, though he ultimately fell short, imagine if he had had a team of world class players at his disposal, as City do.

For tomorrow’s final, the Gunners, to a man, must be switched on and absolutely determined to put in a lung-busting shift for the team, and that includes Henrikh Mhikitaryan and Mesut Ozil, who must be prepared to help prevent City doubling up on our full backs, which has so often been our undoing.

If that means Arsene Wenger has to offset the defensive burden of playing the aforementioned duo by taking Alex Iwobi out of the lineup in favour of Elneny, then so be it.

At the same time, we cannot allow Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to become isolated up front and cut off from the midfield, as Alexandre Lacazette has been so often this season.

Aubameyang is a world-class striker and we must utilise his talents if we hope to come away with victory. No matter how good he is, a striker without a supply line and the support to make it work is rendered near useless and we are not a team capable of playing in our own half for any great length of time.

Getting both of those aspects of the game right will be difficult against a side of City’s quality, I am acutely aware of that, but the Gunners have shown in small patches this season that they are capable if the circumstances are right.

Whether all the moving parts can function as a whole is another matter but it’s clear  we cannot afford another performance as listless and unworthy as the one turned in against Ostersund.

Arsene must find a way to get XI talented players to function as a team, as a solid unit all pulling in the same direction and towards a singular goal. Free-form, express-yourself football may be his hallmark, but the Frenchman is going to have to set aside the easel for this final, or at least trade the horse-hair brush for a roller.

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