Arsenal vs Leeds United: 4 unavoidable key selection decisions for Mikel Arteta to make

There is no time to dwell for Arsenal as Leeds United head to the Emirates on Tuesday for their third match in eight days as the EFL Cup round of 16 fixtures take place.

Mikel Arteta’s side found their rhythm in devastating fashion against Aston Villa with a blistering 60-minute spell in which they struck the back of Emi Martinez’s net three times to put themselves firmly in control.

Jacob Ramsey netted late on but the points were secured by that stage in what was one of the most encouraging outings seen during the manager’s tenure.

Back on home soil, that momentum needs carrying on and were fitness levels not an issue there would be no reason to make wholesale changes. However, that obviously isn’t the case and a balance has to be struck.

4 big selection calls for Mikel Arteta to make as Arsenal prepare to face Leeds United in the EFL Cup round of 16 on Tuesday

There are some key selection decisions for Arteta to make as he aims to avoid disrupting the status quo while also handing minutes to key players who’ve found themselves on the periphery.

Quite clear now is that there is a starting lineup the manager can trust. In the six games where he’s had the vast majority of his new-look team to choose from the side have gone unbeaten: four wins and two draws.

Evident since the first outing in the EFL Cup is that Arteta has his eyes on a silver prize. While the changes were considerable for the previous win over AFC Wimbledon, it was nonetheless a squad made up of entirely first team names.

Against Premier League opposition it’s unlikely that fans will see academy involvement. Regardless of that, there are some big selection calls to make as Marcelo Bielsa’s struggling Leeds side head to the capital.

1. Nuno Tavares or Ainsley Maitland-Niles at Left-Back

Nuno Tavares could hardly have had a more impressive full Premier League debut for the club than he had against Aston Villa. Industrious, physical, aggressive and threatening, the volume of lung-bursting run he made down the left and barely breaking a sweat was remarkable.

His inclusion was a forced one, with Kieran Tierney missing out through injury, and it sounds like Tuesday will once again come too soon for the Scotsman. Therefore there is an interesting decision to make, one heavily reliant on when Tierney may return.

Despite a superb outing, Tierney will remain first choice in the position, so if he’s fit for the upcoming trip to Leicester it could mean another 90 minute run out for Tavares against Leeds. He’s absolutely capable of it, as witnessed in every game he’s played, but if he were to stay in the team for Leicester it may be in Arteta’s thinking to play Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left-back to avoid the Portuguese Under-21 international playing three times in eight days.

Maitland-Niles is the standout option to fill in there, even if he’s more suited to a left wing-back role than as a more classic full-back.

Him playing there also gives him the minutes he needs while allowing to keep the midfield similar to how it was on Friday. In a game where Leeds will push high on Arsenal’s defenders, Tavares will be subject to an entirely different 90 minutes and Maitland-Niles’ defensive resolve may come in handy.

2. Play Alexandre Lacazette or Keep Him for the Premier League

The way the season was panning out had these fixtures down as certified Alexandre Lacazette starts. Showing his class and influence in the previous two league matches, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t make the starting lineup against Leicester.

But if Lacazette doesn’t play here, and Aubameyang certainly won’t either, it will leave the forward line looking inexperienced: Martinelli, Nketiah and Balogun are all in contention, but the presence of a Lacazette or Aubameyang will be missed (see: Burnley).

Seen cramping up in the latter stages against Villa made it clear the lack of minutes this season has impacted his fitness, and whether he has the capacity yet to play this many games in a short space of time remains to be seen.

If he doesn’t play on Tuesday then it opens the door for Martin Odegaard to impress after a pair of superb  outings.

So long as he’s central to the team by being up among the top passers then he can influence the games as he so likes. When he’s in a more retracted deeper position he can go lost, an issue that has its roots both in his physicality as well as systematically.

For the moment it does seem like Lacazette has overtaken the Norwegian in the pecking order, yet in a high energy cup tie with Leeds where some experience in the forward line will be needed leaves Arteta with an interesting choice to make.

3. Gabriel Martinelli on the Left Wing or at Centre-Forward

He has to play. With limited minutes as it is, making it to the latter stages of cup competitions is huge for Gabriel Martinelli as the he is the biggest victim of having no European football.

Last time out in the EFL Cup he was frustrated not to play the full 90 minutes and he’ll want no less this time around.

That win over AFC Wimbledon saw him shifted out to the right side, somewhere he was able to look dangerous in, albeit not his best position. Where he plays will come down to the usual left wing or at centre-forward, a decision that is impacted by the involvement, or lack thereof, from Lacazette.

Eddie Nketiah is one candidate to play at No. 9 in the Frenchman’s stead but he has not made a Premier League matchday squad for over a month, and is not featuring at Under-23 level. Folarin Balogun will also fancy a run out at some stage, with all three of the other striker options capable of being fielded in wide positions.

If the decision comes down to Nketiah or Martinelli on the left then anything other than the latter playing can’t be accepted. Nketiah may be working hard behind the scenes and offer a different option at striker, but out on the left is where Martinelli has to be selected.

There is scope for both to feature in any combination – but where Arteta fields Martinelli will tell us a lot.

4. Ben White or Gabriel in Central Defence?

The obvious changes to make are an almost entirely different back five, which means the returns of Rob Holding and Pablo Mari in central defence.

Just like the Martinelli’s and the Maitland-Niles’ of this team, the minutes will be scarce for the pair and this is one of few opportunities for them.

Should it be, though?

Mari has been hopeless every time he’s played and Leeds will put him under intense pressure all throughout the meeting, and with both Gabriel and Benjamin White looking solid, the addition of a progressive passer in there will be a key line breaking tool to navigate through the Leeds press.

White could come in for Holding and partner Mari, but if there is to be one surprise in defence it’ll most likely be for Mari. He too has not been in a matchday squad for over a month. Calum Chambers joins that group as well.

Gabriel and Holding is also a pairing that knows one another. They’ve played together plenty of times and finished last season strongly with the unbeaten run, so it may be under consideration by Arteta.

Arsenal also want to win this. Changing out the entire team can be disruptive and the way Arteta wants this team to play requires specific personnel to carry out the orders.




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