Arsenal need not be crippled with the sort of fear that has gripped their game in the Premier League when Pep Guardiola’s City come to town tonight (22 December).
In many ways, their Carabao Cup quarter-final clash is a chance for the young Gunners to express themselves, as they have done at length in the Europa League, and show once again what they can bring to the squad both now and in the future.
Indeed, for some of the players (Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, and Eddie Nketiah) it is an enormous opportunity to move from the first-team periphery and into serious contention for a regular starting berth. With the senior players badly under performing, there won’t be a better chance for them to stake a claim. I don’t want to say now or never because fortunes in football are ever-changing but these young players can’t stay on the fringes forever.
Although Pep will sprinkle his side with a few of his more senior players, there will surely be a second-string feel to his side that will allow the young Gunners to compete without the threat of being blown away (fingers crossed!).
It could be an opportunity too for the likes of Callum Chambers and Pablo Mari to get some more minutes under their belts and beginning applying pressure for places with the senior match day squad.
Running throughout the team then should be a certain hunger to impress and to progress and, for that reason, I would expect to see a markedly different type of performance from Arsenal tonight. I don’t expect them to be nearly as inhibited as wrought with fear as their senior colleagues and that will translate into something more expansive on the pitch.
Of course, we should never take for granted the quality of Guardiola’s side, whichever ‘string’ he chooses to field, and it will be no walk over for Arsenal. In truth, City probably have three teams that could beat the likes of FK Molde or Rapid Vienna.
But I don’t have the same overwhelming sense of dread ahead of this game, nothing like the sort of foreboding that greets every Premier League matchday this season.
Rather, I am looking forward to this contest and I would wager a lot of the young Gunners are too. Let’s hope that the manager doesn’t err too much on the side of caution and over-stock his side with the sort of safety-first players who have been weighing so heavily on the league team. Technical security is fine, technical constipation is not.
For many of our youngsters, this Manchester City side will represent one of the toughest tests they will face this season. Tonight is a huge opportunity for them to rise to that challenge and really show they have what it takes. Come on you Gunners!