For the majority of Arsene Wenger’s tenure as Arsenal manager, the Carling Cup has been used as something of a stepping stone for youngsters seeking to break into the first-team, with Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere perhaps the two most profound examples of players who were provided with their first competitive action in the competition.
Last season saw the Frenchman deviate from that policy somewhat, with considerably fewer youngsters called upon, and a far greater number of more experienced first-team members deployed instead en route to the Final which, needless to say, was lost in cataclysmic circumstances.
Almost seven months on from that fateful day at Wembley, the competition returns next week, with Shrewsbury Town the visitors to North London for a game in which the League Two side will be seeking to cause what would be a remarkable upset.
Wenger now has a decision to make with regards to his team selection for this fixture. Will he call upon the youngsters again or will he instead turn to some of his first-team regulars? The likelihood is that it will be a combination of both.
There will certainly be some players on show in a week’s time who will be desperate to prove that they are of the calibre to make a breakthrough in the near future. Carl Jenkinson falls into that category, with the full-back eager to put the harrowing experience of Old Trafford behind him, whilst fellow summer signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has found game time hard to come by so far this season, and will be seeking to prove his worth with an impressive performance.
The prospect of Oxlade-Chamberlain on one wing and fellow speed merchant Ryo Miyaichi on the other is an intriguing one, but their youthful promise will be complemented by some relative experience with Lukasz Fabianski set to start in goal and Ju Young Park likely to be afforded a start up front as he begins the process of adapting to English football.
Ignasi Miquel has drifted out of the first-team picture a little in recent weeks following the acquisition of Per Mertesacker, but the young Spaniard could be in line to start against Shrewsbury, partnered by either Johan Djourou or Sebastien Squillaci.
With a lack of further options, either Andre Santos or Kieran Gibbs will start at left-back, with Francis Coquelin likely to be deployed in the holding midfield position. A more experienced creative force, such as Yossi Benayoun or Andrey Arshavin, may also be called upon, whilst the bench is likely to be a similar mix of youth and experience with Benik Afobe (if fit) and Oguzhan Ozyakup likely to be joined by several members of the first-team squad.
It is unlikely that we will see a side of a similar average age to the one that trounced Sheffield United in this competition three years ago, with Wenger instead poised to use this fixture as an opportunity to provide game time for both fringe members of the first-team squad as well as youngsters yearning for competitive experience.
The selection process may yet alter should Arsenal progress and will be dependent upon who they face in the latter rounds of the competition, but this is not a game to be taken for granted, and with all those involved eager to impress as they seek to earn further chances, a lively, spirited and determined performance can be expected from whoever turns out in red and white.