We kick off our EFL Cup campaign against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night and ahead of the game, Rob Kelly spoke to Arsene Wenger for our preview:
“The confidence level has been rebuilt and now we have to show that we can maintain our focus and the consistency in our concentration. That is what is at stake.” - Arsene Wenger
While much of the pre-match build-up has centred on Arsene Wenger’s former protégé, Nicklas Bendtner, the Arsenal manager’s attention has been trained on his current crop of rising stars.
The EFL Cup may not boast the glamour and glitz of the Champions League or Premier League, but it has been an important testing ground over the course of the Frenchman’s 20-year reign.
|We have won our last three matches against Nottingham Forest, beating them in the Premier League in 1997, 1998 and 1999On the two occasions the clubs have met in the League Cup, Arsenal have gone on to lift the trophy - in 1987 and 1993|
Wenger may not have won this competition before, but it has offered genuine value to him as he has blooded future stars for the first time, from Fabregas and Wilshere in the past, to Bellerin and Iwobi in more recent times.
Such is the strength of his squad that the boss could rotate for the trip to the City Ground and still name a team full of internationals, but he expects to field a handful of youngsters on Tuesday evening.
Having won three straight Premier League games (with a creditable draw in Paris sandwiched in between), Wenger is keen to continue to build up a head of steam, no matter who is on the teamsheet in Nottingham.
|Nottingham Forest: Perquis (groin), Assombalonga (hamstring - doubt), Lam (leg)Arsenal: Giroud (toe), Ramsey (hamstring), Welbeck (knee), Mertesacker (knee), Jenkinson (knee)|
“We will have a team with experience but I will also give a chance to two or three young players. But overall it is basically a first-team squad,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
“The confidence level has been rebuilt and now we have to show that we can maintain our focus and the consistency in our concentration. That is what is at stake.
“This is an interesting cup competition. It gives games to all the members of the squad and when it gets to the later stages it gets passionate, so you have to survive in the first rounds.
“That will not be easy for us, but we want to maintain our winning streak. This is an opportunity to give everyone good competition and also we have a chance to win a trophy, so we want to combine the two.”
ONE TO WATCH
While Shkodran Mustafi has been thrown straight into the fray since his arrival last month, fellow new boy Lucas has had to be a bit more patient.
The Spanish forward made his debut in the Premier League win against Southampton, but was benched for the away game at Paris Saint-Germain and came on for the final three minutes of the win at Hull on Saturday.
Wenger is carefully easing in his new forward, but the 28-year-old is expected to play a part at the City Ground and the manager believes he will thrive in England.
“When you see the games, you can see the intensity is total and it takes you a little while sometimes to adjust to that,” he said. “All the players that we bought this season have top quality and have the right attitude.
“I believe that in training Lucas shows the quality to integrate into our squad and this is a job where you have to be focused and maintain your desire no matter what happens to you.
“Sometimes it comes quick, sometimes you have to wait and at the moment he shows us the quality. If he maintains that he will get his chance.”
While much has been made of the reunion between Arsenal and Bendtner, there are two more former Gunners in the Forest ranks who may well have a point to prove.
Henri Lansbury and Armand Traore could both line up against their old club on Tuesday evening, and Wenger is wary of the threat both them and their team-mates will pose to his side.
“Armand has fantastic power and pace, and has a good mentality,” the manager said. “He started here, I took him from Paris and he has had a good career. Henri as well has had a big impact.
“He had big potential, because he has a good eye to get into the box, a good eye for goal and he is a hard worker and a focused and motivated player. He had many injuries when he was here and that was detrimental to his career.
“Henri is a real Arsenal man, and all three [players] still made big careers. They did not do it for us, but what is the most important thing at the end of the day is that these guys all [were able] to express their talent and can have satisfaction in their job.
“I saw Forest against Aston Villa, they were in trouble and came back and got a draw and played a very convincing game,” he added.
“They look to be ready, they look to be up for the fight and when they were in trouble, they were able to come back against a team with the quality of Aston Villa. That means they are a very serious side.”
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