It may only be early days in Mikel Arteta’s reign, but Arsenal already look a completely animal to the embarrassment that blundered from game to game in the first half of the season. Against Manchester United on New Year’s Day, it looked as if Arteta, and not Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had been at the helm for over a year, such was the tactical organisation of the Arsenal side.
Even David Luiz looked like he knew how to defend.
Against Chelsea three days earlier, Arsenal were incredibly unlucky not to at least get a draw in a game they dominated. With Champions League qualification looking unlikely, Arsenal may as well go full throttle in the tournament they became so accustomed to winning in the mid to latter part of the last decade.
Leeds, on the other hand, could do without the distraction of a cup run as their bid to end their 16-year Premier League exodus hots up. It would be surprising to see Marcelo Bielsa field a full-strength XI with some potentially difficult Championship fixtures on the horizon, especially considering they have collected just six points from their last available 15 in the league.
While Leeds remain top of the Championship pile, they have shown some signs that they are beginning to stutter over the Christmas period.
Their only win in their last five league games wasn’t exactly convincing, coming courtesy of a last-minute own goal in a 5-4 win at Birmingham which certainly does not inspire confidence in the Leeds rearguard.
Ten days before Christmas, Leeds blew a three-goal lead at home to Cardiff in a similar performance of defensive calamity. They have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last five league games and, considering they still boast the second-best defensive record in the league, this is an entirely recent problem for them.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are still flushing the remnants of the Unai Emery era out of their system and are still quite capable of defensive mishaps, as seen in the capitulation against Chelsea. If Shkodran Mustafi makes his way into the starting XI, then it is plausible that Arsenal will actively help Leeds in their quest to find the back of the net.
There should be goals on Monday, and plenty of them.
The Brazilian youngster has been Arsenal’s shining light in cup competitions and will almost certainly be rewarded with a starting berth against Leeds.
In the League Cup, he notched two goals against fellow Championship opposition in the form of Nottingham Forest and also grabbed two in the thrilling and bizarre 5-5 draw with Liverpool. He has also found the back of the net a further three times in Europe and already looks like a potent goalscorer.
Mikel Arteta is likely to rest at least one of Pierre Emeric Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, making Martinelli the most obvious choice to score for the Gunners on Monday.
Arsenal (-1) to win @ 11/8
Over 3.5 goals @ 21/10
Gabriel Martinelli anytime goalscorer @ 5/4