Even though Arsenal didn’t use the best lineup available to them in the League Cup, they still played with Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny. Having Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil coming off the bench didn’t really help them either, suggesting the next couple of weeks might be a bit too much for this team despite the impressive start.
Wenger has to be worried about the quality of his subs. Carl Jenkinson has been on the cusp of breaking through into the first team for the better part of two years, but the inconsistency in his selection has only pushed him back. He was to blame for Chelsea’s opening goal, and his defending was poor for most of the match.
Nicklas Bendtner is one of those cases when you’re not sure if it’s funny or sad, but the bottom line is that Arsenal have been trying to sell the player for the last three season and failing at that. It’s hard to expect the out of form Dane to do much without help from his midfield, as Ramsey and Wilshere were playing in roles they’re not comfortable in; Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla couldn’t really get their creative juices flowing enough to overcome the excellent duo of Mikel and Essien; Ryo Miyaichi proved once again he’s just not cut out to be a contributing player for Arsenal.
What Wenger should be worried about is his defensive midfield. Mikel Arteta is suspended for next match, while Mathieu Flamini can’t seem to shake off injuries over the last two weeks. Without them, he’ll be forced to play both Wilshere and Ramsey in a role they’re both less fitted for and overall slightly harms his team, because it puts Wilshere in a central position, forcing him to touch the ball more than necessary. Defensively, in any case, it’s a serious downgrade.
And he needs to be worried about what happens if Giroud is injured. For now, the Frenchman has dealt quite well with the amount of minutes he’s forced to play, but unlike his very wide selection of midfielders which include Serge Gnabry as the token youngster who breaks through this season, Bendtner is all Arsenal have to use as cover for Giroud while Yaya Sanogo is injured or simply not ready, and Theo Walcott is still out of the picture.
Arsenal enjoyed a soft schedule, an easy road to the top of the league so far. The League cup might not be the best of indications to future events, but it does show that Arsenal might not be that good against top teams they encounter and will be seeing on a regular basis for the next few weeks, including a visit to one of the toughest away venues in Europe against Dortmund. One bad match doesn’t mean that all their great work early this season is starting to unravel, but it does suggest things might not be as good as they seemed to be not too long ago.