Albion kick off their Carabao Cup campaign by hosting Mikael Arteta’s Arsenal at the Hawthorns on Wednesday evening. In contrast to the Baggies, the Gunners have not started the season well and are yet to register a point, or even score a goal, so far in this campaign.
Their defeat at Brentford was particularly disappointing as Arteta’s team surrendered meekly to their newly promoted opponents. Sunday’s defeat at home to Chelsea, while more palatable given the quality of the opposition, means that only Norwich City sit below them in the fledgling Premier League table on goal difference.
However, as is the norm for the early rounds of the EFL Cup, the odds are that Arteta will make wholesale changes to the team that played on Sunday. In the equivalent fixture last season, he made eight changes for the trip to the King Power Stadium to take on Leicester City in their first Carabao Cup fixture, and still managed to win 2-0.
I use “equivalent” in the loosest terms, however, as that was in the Third Round of the competition rather than the Second Round this time. Teams involved in European competition get a bye to Round Three and, for the first time in a quarter of a century, the Gunners don’t have that luxury. For the record, Arsenal’s last Second Round tie in the League Cup resulted in an 8-0 aggregate victory over Hartlepool United in 1995.
The question that all Baggies fans will be asking is whether Valérien Ismaël will also play a second string side and, personally, I’m not sure that he will. First of all, the thin squad at his disposal means that he would need to pull in plenty of youth players in order to field an eleven that was markedly different to the one that played on Saturday and, secondly, his record last season suggests that he will take cup competitions seriously.
Having said that, Barnsley had already been knocked out of the EFL Cup by the time Ismaël took the reins at Oakwell so there is no direct comparison but, in the FA Cup, he made just three changes for the FA Cup Third Round tie against Tranmere Rovers in January and even fewer for the next two rounds as his decision to keep a strong side saw them progress to Round Five where they lost 1-0 to eventual losing finalists, Chelsea.
I would not, therefore, be surprised to see Big Val field a strong side against Arsenal. He obviously feels that his players should be able to play twice a week at the intensity he demands and, while not all of the squad are at that level yet, I’m sure that is his aim.
Arsenal’s second string will, of course, be a stern test for any side that Albion can put out. They could have extra motivation given that their could be a real opportunity to stake a first team place following the poor start to the season by the starting eleven. The team is likely to include Aaron Ramsdale following his move from Sheffield United, and it could also see a debut for Martin Ødegaard following his £31m move from Real Madrid.
The familiar face of Ainsley Maitland-Niles is also likely to play – the 23-year-old who was on loan at the Hawthorns last season has been in both of Arteta’s matchday squads this season but is yet to get on the pitch. Willian, Lucas Torreira, Sead Kolašinac and Mohamed Elneny are four other senior squad players who have yet to get any minutes under their belt so far, but all have been linked with moves away from the club so are, perhaps, unlikely to feature. That could see senior full debuts for the likes of Nuno Tavares and Miguel Azeez. With new signing, Ben White, self-isolating after a positive COVID test and Gabriel still recovering from a knee injury, Arteta has few options at centre back so two from Holding, Chambers and Mari are likely to start.
There is always the possibility, however, that the Spaniard will choose to field his strongest side knowing that a win will boost the team’s confidence. Conversely, however, if they then lost, he would be under even more pressure while a defeat for a second string side is more palatable. Such are the decisions that head coaches must make!
Early rounds of the EFL Cup are often glorified reserve fixtures – this one could be much more interesting.
Wednesday will be the fifth meeting between the clubs in the League Cup and the Gunners have progressed on each occasion to date.
All of the meetings have come since the turn of the century with the first coming in the Fifth Round at the Hawthorns in December 2003. The Baggies had beaten Manchester United in Round Four but Arsenal proved too strong as goals from Kanu, who would make the move to Albion the following summer, and Aliadière saw the visitors progress with a 2-0 win.
Three years later, Jérémie Aliadière was back to hurt the Baggies again as Arsenal were opponents for Tony Mowbray’s side in the third round in October 2006. This time, the Frenchman scored both goals in another 2-0 victory, the first coming from the penalty spot.
Another three years past and the Baggies were back in the Championship, this time under Roberto di Matteo, and the clubs were drawn at the third round stage once again, although this time at the Emirates. The result was the same, however, another 2-0 victory for the Gunners with goals from Sanchez Watt and Carlos Vela, another player who would shortly make the move to the Hawthorns, albeit on loan, doing so in January 2011.
We had to wait four years for the next League Cup clash between the sides. In September 2013, the sides were in the same division for the first time, and the game finished all square after extra time with Thomas Eisfield’s opener for the visitors cancelled out by a goal from Saido Berahino. In the shootout, another player destined for the Hawthorns, Serge Gnabry, had his kick saved by Luke Daniels, and Albion looked to be in control when Reid and Morrison both converted but misses from Craig Dawson and Morgan Amalfitano meant that Nacho Monreal was able to send Arsenal through to a fourth round meeting with Chelsea.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
9 May 2021 – Premier League
Arsenal 3 (Smith Rowe, Pépé, Willian)
West Brom 1 (Pereira)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
2 Jan 2021 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Arsenal 4 (Tierney, Saka, Lacazette (2))
18 Mar 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Dawson (2), Robson-Kanu)
Arsenal 1 (Sánchez)
Albion’s Record against Arsenal
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