The Countdown Begins
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal host Sunderland on Tuesday as they look to book their place in their fourteenth League Cup Semi Final.
The Gunners have had an impressive week in the Premier League, going on a three-match win streak against Southampton, West Ham and Leeds United. Gabriel Martinelli's return to the team, Emile Smith Rowe's goal-scoring form and Martin Ødegaard's improvement in recent weeks have lifted Arsenal comfortably into the Top 4.
Sunderland, who are third in the EFL League One table, will come to the Emirates full of confidence despite being held to a draw by Ipswich on Saturday afternoon. Wins over Plymouth and Morecambe Argyle have lifted them within four point of league leaders, Rotherham United FC.
Sunderland have carried their strong league form into the Carabao Cup this season, overcoming Port Vale, Blackpool FC, Wigan Athletic and Queens Park Rangers in some tight ties. On the other hand, Arsenal have yet to be challenged in this year’s competition, scoring 11 goals and conceding zero against West Brom, AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United.
Looking back, Arsenal are unbeaten in their previous 11 games against Sunderland, winning eight and drawing three. The last time these two met was in May 2017 when an Alexis Sanchez brace earned the Gunners a 2-0 win in the Premier League. Sunderland have beaten Arsenal only once in their three League Cup meetings, coming back from two goals down to win 3-2 at Highbury in 2002-03.
Sunderland manager Lee Johnson added some spice to Tuesday's clash with his comments before the draw. When discussing who he wanted in the next round, Johnson replied;
"I'd love to have Arsenal away, or Tottenham away if not that. And then we'll wait for the really big guns when it's two legs."
As expected, Arsenal fans on social media did not take kindly to Johnson’s comments.
Arsenal have not won the League Cup in over 25 years
Arsenal fans will have some unpleasant memories of the League Cup as it is, having lost each of their last three finals in the competition. With some big names still involved (including Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, West Ham, Leicester and Brentford), the Gunners will hope Mikel Arteta can end the club’s trophy drought in the only domestic competition Arsene Wenger failed to win during his tenure in North London.
What might bring some comfort is Manchester City’s elimination from the tournament for the first time in four years after West Ham beat them in a penalty shoot-out in October. Funnily, Mikel Arteta is the only other coach to win the Carabao Cup during that period, having been Pep Guardiola's Assistant Manager at Manchester City for three of those triumphs.
Team News: Arsenal
Mikel Arteta revealed after the Leeds game on Saturday that both Sambi Lokonga and Pablo Mari tested positive for COVID-19 and will be unavailable for Tuesday. The Spaniard will hope there are no more positive cases in the coming days. Meanwhile, Sead Kolasinac remains out for the rest of the year after injuring his ankle during international duty.
Like his mentor Guardiola, Arteta will likely play a strong side in the competition regardless of the opposition. Arsenal were eliminated at this stage of last season's tournament, losing 4-1 to Manchester City after selecting a heavily rotated squad.
It is very likely that Bernd Leno will be given a chance to impress in goal after losing his spot in the Premier League to fan-favourite, Aaron Ramsdale. Nuno Tavares is also expected to start after losing his place in recent weeks. Having not started in any of Arsenal's last four Premier League games, Emile Smith Rowe could also be involved.
Crucially, there are big decisions to be made up front after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was stripped of his captaincy following three disciplinary breaches. This comes in light of Eddie Nketiah, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli all getting more minutes in recent weeks. In particular, Nketiah has scored seven goals in eight Carabao Cup appearances, including two in two starts this season.
When and where to watch:
The match is being played at the Emirates Stadium on December 21 at 7:45pm UK time and is being broadcasted on Sky Sports.
Make sure to check out Arsenal VAVEL after the match for a warm down and further analysis.