Arsenal Vs Forest: It’s time to chase the carrot

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Theo Walcott of Arsenal warms up prior to the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park on December 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Theo Walcott of Arsenal warms up prior to the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park on December 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images) /
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Arsenal travel to Nottingham Forest on Sunday afternoon in the third round of the FA Cup. It is the perfect chance for a few players to chase the carrot.

The FA Cup is a competition that has bred great rewards for Arsenal in recent seasons. Three trophies in the last four years, including an FA Cup defence, as well as a remarkable run last year that included wins against Manchester City and Chelsea in the semi-final and final, is proof of that. And the reason is a very simple one: intrasquad competition.

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Arsene Wenger has assembled a deep and varied squad. Prior to the 2013/14 season, for example, the Arsenal narrative was one of sold stars and subpar replacements. As a result, the squad was thin. So, when it came to the accustomed rotation in the domestic cups, the team that played was full of players that were well below the level of the starters. That is no longer the case.

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Wenger, himself, has stated, perhaps ambitiously, that he sees the same quality in those players that he plays in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup, and Europa League as he does in the Premier League. I, frankly, sincerely doubt that to be true. But there is still a highlighting of the intrasquad competition in his remarks: those that play in the cup matches can force their way into the Premier League side with good performances. And that is the case with those likely to play in the third round of the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

Perhaps the individual who most needs to impress his qualities on the forefront of Wenger’s mind is Theo Walcott. Rewind 18 months and Theo, playing as a striking right-winger was, ostensibly, finally delivering on his inordinate potential. Now, though, his standing in the squad has slipped, somewhat drastically, having played just 50 minutes of Premier League football all year. Walcott will be 29 by the time the year is out. He is now the longest-serving player at the club. A cup-rotation role is not what he should be reduced to. And yet, here we are. Walcott, then, has the chance to push his case for more playing time against Forest.

He is not the only one. Fellow attacker, Danny Welbeck, will also be hoping to climb his way up the pecking order. It will be difficult to ever unseat any of the dazzling front-three that this Arsenal team is founded on, but Welbeck, thanks to his positional versatility and skillset flexibility, can prove himself to be a more-than-capable reserve.

There are, though, players playing who do have the chance to usurp the starter. Francis Coquelin may be eyeing up Granit Xhaka; Calum Chambers and Rob Holding may be targeting the wide centre-half roles in the back-three; David Ospina might hope to push Petr Cech. But perhaps none have as good a chance as Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

The youngster has already entered the Premier League rotation, subbing in for Sead Kolasinac when a back-four was implemented, briefly, and when the Bosnian hobbled off in the draw to West Brom, performing wonderfully in the midweek 2-2 draw against Chelsea. With another good display against Forest, Maitland-Niles could further the pressure on Wenger to find a starting role for him more regularly, whether that be at full-back or in his preferred midfield.

Next: Arsenal Vs Forest: Predicted starting XI

Even with the many injuries that Arsenal are dealing with, they still have a plethora of players yearning for Premier League minutes. They are a precious commodity, the perfect carrot to dangle. Wenger will most certainly dangle them. It is up to his players to chase.