Given the recent upsurge in form, with the team’s win over Norwich and now Burnley, it seems fair that the players have a well earned rest for their efforts.
It was therefore a little surprising to see Mikel Arteta name as strong a team as he did against Wimbledon. The inexplicable dropping of Bernd Leno in favour of Aaron Ramsdale, meant the German was back between the sticks, Thomas Partey wished to fine tune his fitness ahead of Sunday’s North London derby against Tottenham and Alexandre Lacazette hasn’t started a game yet this season.
It was a strong team that was marred with the disappointment of not seeing the very talented Charlie Patino in and amongst the first-team squad. His inclusion likely being down to Partey’s insistence on playing.
With the team that Arsenal put out, it’s not really surprising to see them take an early lead. Fantastic work by Gabriel Martinelli in the Wimbledon penalty area led to the talented Brazilian being brought down and Alexandre Lacazette converting from the spot a few seconds later.
Despite their dominance, Arsenal didn’t really look too likely to score again in the first-half. There were glimpses of quality for sure, the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Albert Sambi Lokonga had speculative efforts, but nothing to really trouble Nik Tzanev too much.
The second-half saw Arsenal really kick into gear. One of the more noticeable tactics of Arsenal under Mikel Arteta has been the team’s insistence on the left-hand side, specifically through the monstrous Kieran Tierney. However, with the Scotsman’s absence, Nuno Tavares was the team’s primary creative outlet and the Portuguese fullback was unstoppable all evening.
Perhaps it was the total lack of marking or the fact that Arsenal’s £6.7m summer signing is just so quick, but Wimbledon just couldn’t get near him and Arsenal’s best chances definitely came through him.
However, it wasn’t until the introduction of both Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka respectively that Arsenal clicked into gear.
Wonderful play from Saka and Nketiah allowed Smith Rowe to bury home Arsenal’s second from close-range. It seemed to kill the game off from there, but it wasn’t before Eddie Nketiah capped off the win with a truly mesmeric finish. Saka’s ball down to Cédric Soares was cut-back and the England youngster backheeled it into the net to send Arsenal comfortably into the fourth round.
It was a good display from Arsenal where they never really looked too troubled. Wimbledon had their chances of course, but they never really looked to punish Arsenal’s mistakes or to trouble Bernd Leno too much.
It’s a shame that Mikel Arteta went with such an experienced side. This was a chance for the likes of Omari Hutchinson, Karl Jakob Hein, Folarian Balogun, Kido Taylor-Hart and the aforementioned Charlie Patino to potentially strut their stuff, but instead, Arsenal opted to give others more minutes. While the strategy makes sense, it does perhaps explain why most of these players do not start regularly.
The amount of chances created, it is perhaps a little embarrassing that Arsenal only entered the second-half 1-0 up.
Still, a win is a win and Arsenal will be satisfied that they are safely through to the knockout stages and will revel in the fact that Cristian Romero, Davinson Sánchez, Tanguy Ndombele and Harry Kane all played a full 90 minutes as Tottenham edged through on penalties against Wolves.
With full attention now on Sunday’s North London derby, fitness will be key as Arsenal enter with no injuries or suspensions as Granit Xhaka returns.
1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
20.) Nuno Tavares
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
5.) Thomas Partey (Smith Rowe 60’)
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Saka 76’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Balogun 83’)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c)
49.) Karl Jakob Hein
21.) Calum Chambers
31.) Sead Kolašinac
25.) Mohamed Elneny
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
7.) Bukayo Saka
26.) Folarian Balogun
AFC Wimbledon team:
1.) Nik Tzanev
2.) Henry Lawrence
22.) Ben Heneghan
5.) Will Nightingale
18.) Nesta Guiness-Walker
21.) Luke McCormick (Mebude 60’)
4.) Alex Woodyard (c)
8.) Anthony Hartigan
12.) Jack Rudoni (Chislett 69’)
9.) Ollie Palmer (Pressley 54’)
10.) Ayoub Assal
AFC Wimbledon subs:
31.) Zaki Oualah
3.) Dániel Csóka
7.) Cheye Alexander
6.) George Marsh
11.) Ethan Chislett
19.) Aaron Pressley
16.) Dapo Mebude