New manager. New chairman. An iffy defence. 8k plus Brentford fans descending on Highbury for the first time in over 70 years. It’s all gone very different shaped for Arsenal this season. Billy Grant caught up with Tim Stillman (@StillBerto) – columnist for Arseblog (@ArseBlog) and Author of ‘Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South‘ – to get the lowdown on The Gooners as they get ready for their League Cup tie with Brentford.
It’s a new era for Arsenal. New manager with Arsene Wenger leaving and Unai Emery coming in. New chairman with Ivan Gazidis leaving. Are you feeling at tad naked at the moment?
It’s been a huge period of upheaval over the last year or so, there has been enormous player turnover, the manager has changed, obviously, we have a whole new Executive Team, the fitness and medical staff has all changed and now we are 100% owned by Stan Kroenke. Arsenal is, frankly, a totally different organisation to the one it was 12-18 months ago.
The change has been so rapid and so all encompassing that we are all in a state of flux at the moment, so Gazidis leaving, whilst a surprise, just feels like another brick in the wall in truth. It’s clear that it’s going to take Emery a little while to find his feet and get a feel for this team and for them to get a feel for him- it’s the same with the fan base.
The relationship with Arsene Wenger had ruptured and after years of continuity, certainty and, well, staleness in truth, now every thing is totally new, which is exciting but change can be ugly. It takes a while before you see whether change has been handled well so we’re all in the land of ‘wait and see’ at the moment, which we’ve not been in for a generation.
So this season, the Europa League and getting a Top 4 place I presume is priority for Arsenal. So does having a West London ‘rival’ with nearly 10k fans who will be chomping at the bit to upset your evening provide an unwelcome distraction for you as opposed to playing say someone like say Ipswich or Bolton where the opposition fans won’t show nearly the level of pottiness?
The League Cup is a very separate competition for Arsenal and it’s a very separate fanbase too. Most season ticket holders don’t buy for these games (regardless of the opposition) so it’s a different crowd. I think we’ll really enjoy a team like Brentford bringing 10k fans. Frankly, there wouldn’t be much of an atmosphere without you! We played Reading in this competition a couple of seasons back and it was a tough watch, it felt much more like a reserve game. But honestly the result won’t create a frisson in the fan base really unless we lose handsomely.
The Emirates – and previously Highbury – is sometimes childishly nicknamed “The Library” due to the home fans creating noise equivalent to the relative numbers in the stadium. With 9,000 Brentford fans in the house, will this be effectively a home game for Brentford? Why?
Yes, it will be and that’s quite natural. Arsenal’s League Cup crowds are a little younger due to price of tickets, it’s a bit more family oriented. I think every ground needs a good away following to spark a bit of atmosphere. I would really like to see increased away allocations for league games.
It really makes a difference having a sizeable following that’s not shovelled away in a corner. When Koln came to the Emirates last season the home fans, by and large, loved it, even though there were so many Koln fans in the home end. They weren’t causing any trouble, just singing and enjoying the experience. To be honest, that’s a bit of a novelty at our ground.
It’s true to say Arsenal don’t normally take the cups this seriously at this stage – playing a team full of U23s mixed in with 1st teamers who need game time or coming back from injury. How do you think Arsenal will line up?
I think you’ll see squad players mixed with U-23s. More familiar faces like Lichtsteiner, Holding, Iwobi, Leno and Welbeck will play, as well as Rob Holding. But the player that will excite people is Emile Smith-Rowe. He is 17 and came on in the Europa League game against Vorskla last week.
He’s an exciting attacking midfielder and the pick of the crop at the club. He burst onto the scene during the run to the Youth Cup Final last season and he will probably skip U-23 level quite quickly. Eddie Nketiah is a striker and scored twice in this competition last year. He is an old fashioned finisher in the mould of Ian Wright. He’s about 8 stone in weight though but put him in front of goal and he can finish.
Brentford played Arsenal pre season – beating them 2-1 – with Aubameyang scoring Arsenal’s only goal. Arsenal had five or six first team players in the side. Are you expecting a tough match on Wednesday?
I’m not sure how literate our fanbase in general is with Brentford, but I am expecting a tough game. Brentford are a Championship side after all. But there are a few players we will be familiar with from past League Cup campaigns. Arsenal have two injuries at left-back at the moment, so Josh da Silva would have played were he still at the club (this would have been an ideal match for Josh DaSilva to start for Brentford. He hasn’t played for us as yet as he is recovering from an injury he had when we signed him from Arsenal. He will start action with our B-team from next month to get him up to speed – Ed).
Nico Yennaris is another that we know well, who grew up at Arsenal and played some first team games. Josh McEachran is another player most people will know having been highly rated at Chelsea. Norwich were minutes away from knocking us out at home last year and we only beat Doncaster 1-0 at home at this stage last season.
I think Arsenal should have enough senior players to see this one through and some players, Guendouzi, Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Welbeck, Elneny and Leno, will really want to press their case for inclusion in the first team. Smith-Rowe will be the one the fans come to see and if he plays well, he could start pushing for the match day squad.
Give us a score prediction
I’ll go 3-1 Arsenal- we’re not great in defence so I think Brentford can score. But at home, I think we ought to have enough.
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