Arsenal crashed out of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night as they lost to a penalty and a wondergoal from Southampton.
In what was an open game, Arsene Wenger opted to rotate his squad, brining in ten new players from the side which defeated Aston Villa at the weekend. Calum Chambers was the only player to keep his starting spot, moving inside to centreback to partner fellow youngster Isaac Hayden.
Hayden, just 19 himself, was one of the bright spots of the game. Looking composed and assured he showed enough on the night against a full-strength Southampton side to indicate that he is ready to play the role of Arsenal’s fourth-choice centreback this season.
For me, however, by far the brightest spot, was the return of Abou Diaby for his first start for the club in over 18 months. Serially crocked ever since he met Dan Smith just a few months after arriving at Arsenal, Diaby reminded us all why he, perhaps more than any other player on the planet, deserves the chance to resurrect the career that has been so cruelly taken from him.
Speaking after the game, Arsene Wenger was very muted in his praise of the Frenchman, saying
Of course. It was difficult for him but he got 60 minutes and he was not injured. At some stage he has to play. He had 90 minutes [for the under-21s] at Villa last week. He played 60 minutes tonight. He was not bad, he was acceptable as a performance but he tired after an hour.
Perhaps I watched the game with Diaby-tinted glasses on. I’ve always been a massive fan of him and believe that, if he can keep himself fit [a massive ‘if’ I grant you] then he is a starter for the team. Quite how Wenger then goes about fitting everyone else in to the midfield I’m not quite sure, but deploying Diaby in a deeper role against Southampton could indicate where his future lies, something Wenger alluded to after the game when he added
I try to transform it [Diaby to a defensive-minded player], yes because I feel because he was injured for a long time and he has the physical potential to win the challenges, to face the game will be easier for him than to play with his back to goal with the injuries he had. I tried to develop him in a deeper role, I think he can do it. He can be very interesting because he has all the attributes to do it. After, he must love it as well because he’s more of an offensive-minded player.
Alexis Sanchez was the other standout from the game from an Arsenal point of view. The Chilean displays a work-ethic that puts many players in the top division, not just at Arsenal, to shame. If Arsenal managed to acquire 11 players who worked as hard as he does then I doubt they’d lose a game. But it’s not just his tireless running, pressing and harrying which has won him admirers. His ability on the ball is exceptional as well and his free-kicks. They’re just a thing of beauty as we saw with his goal to open the scoring on Tuesday night.
Losing is never fun and, of course, fans would far rather than Arsenal had progressed. But, in the grand scheme of things, with Arsenal’s thin and injury-prone squad, not being able to win the League Cup this season, a trophy Wenger has never managed to win, is no big deal.
There are much bigger fish to fry, starting this weekend when Tottenham roll down the Seven Sisters Road.