The Carabao Cup is the least important competition for Arsenal, but it will continue to serve a useful purpose for Mikel Arteta by keeping more of his squad active until the New Year.
Tuesday’s 2-0 win over a spirited but blunt Leeds United at the Emirates Stadium saw the Gunners advance to the quarter-finals, the draw of which takes place on Saturday.
The one-leg match will be played in the week of December 20, almost two months away, but Arteta needs all the matches he can get to keep the majority of his players involved until further changes are made. held in January.
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The absence of European football this quarter limited opportunities for several individuals, including Calum Chambers and Eddie Nketiah, both of whom scored in the second half to settle this as a game in which Leeds appeared to be the better team for the last part of the season. the opening period.
An extra game might not make much of a difference in terms of playing time, but the reverse would have been a lot worse. The defeat would lead to much of that roster, containing nine changes from Friday’s Premier League win over Aston Villa, resigned to the high likelihood of no competitive action until the January transfer window opens when their respective situations could be resolved.
“It opens up more space to give the group opportunities and that’s obviously a trophy that we want to compete for – that’s the whole point,” said Arteta. “It’s great to see the players we have having opportunities, the way they played, the way they faced a very good team. «
Fittingly enough, Chambers and Nketiah are two with uncertain futures. Chambers, 26, is out of contract next summer, although the club have the option of extending his current contract for another year.
However, they have yet to exercise him, given that this was only his fourth appearance of the season, introduced after 55 minutes after Ben White’s untimely departure due to the same virus that completely ruled out Pablo. Husband.
And what an introduction it was. As soon as the restart, Emile Smith Rowe swung a corner with his right foot at the far post where Nicolas Pepe redirected it towards the goal so that Chambers goes towards the goal.
Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier cleared the ball but made it behind the line, scoring crazy celebrations for Chambers’ first goal since September 2019.
According to Arteta, these celebrations were the product of « three different coaches and a player who told him he would score » moments before coming on.
Nketiah secured the win 13 minutes later, taking advantage of substitute Liam Cooper’s poor header attempt to his own goal, lifting the ball over Meslier with his first touch before heading for the under goal. a tight angle. It was an unconvincing finish but good enough to wiggle around the line.
There was undoubtedly a degree of personal satisfaction here too, after a disappointing loan spell at Leeds last season in which he scored three league goals in 17 appearances (including just two starts).
“It’s always fun to play, it’s been a while, I’m working hard, I’m waiting for my opportunity,” Nketiah told Sky Sports. Nketiah was set to join Crystal Palace this summer – the two clubs agreed on a fee but the deal then collapsed on personal terms – and is another out of contract at the end of the season although Arteta has suggested he could still stay at Arsenal in the long run.
“We had a situation this summer that we tried to resolve and we couldn’t anyway,” he said.
“It’s the contractual situation that is more and more common in the football where we come from with COVID and a lot of issues that we have to solve.
“I have no doubts that he is going to be a top player and hopefully at Arsenal. I’m happy to have him, he’s our player, I consider him very strong and for my part, I want him to stay. «
It was the familiar League Cup menagerie of more experienced players seeking form – Pepe once again did little to silence doubts about his £ 72million – alongside desperate squad players looking for a chance to impress, including Cedric Soares, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland -Niles and Gabriel Martinelli and those most likely to leave when the opportunity allows, including Sead Kolasinac and Bernd Leno.
In the end, Arsenal earned their sixth win in eight games in all competitions, which keeps the momentum behind rebuilding Arteta for the upcoming tasks he will be judged on.
The only note of caution came from White’s injury. He has had a mixed start since signing for £ 50million from Brighton this summer, but there have been some promising signs of late and a forced absence due to illness would be a setback to his goal of establishing himself in the heart of Arsenal’s defense.
Of course, that would also give an opportunity for another player to step in. But Arteta would prefer to shoot on his own terms, and a Carabao Cup quarterfinal is another chance to do so.