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David and Goliath – Rovers and Gunners
Arsenal: 13 Premiership titles, 13 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, 15 Community Shields, 1 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, the “most beautiful club in England” according to Marco van Basten.
And, when League One side Doncaster Rovers drew The Gunners in the 3rd Round of the Carabao (League) Cup, all involved with the club were understandably ecstatic. To add to the excitement, the game would be played at the Emirates, England’s third-largest football stadium.
Testament to this, Rovers have sold nearly 5,000 tickets for the match, remarkable for a 300+ mile round trip on a Wednesday evening. But, Doncaster face an uphill battle against Arsenal.
Clearly, there are great differences in the quality of the sides, meaning Rovers go into the match as underdogs. This can be seen just by looking at the level the sides competed at last season.
The gulf can also be seen in the finances of the two sides, which could not differ more.
Nevertheless, Doncaster go into the ‘David and Goliath’ battle determined to record a victory that would undoubtedly go down as one of the great League Cup giant-killings.
Furthermore, Rovers are helped by the fact that Arsenal will almost certainly not field their strongest eleven. (For evidence, see the 2015/16 League Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.)
Old Rivals With A Twist – Wenger vs Ferguson
Arsène Wenger took the Arsenal reigns in 1996 and has since stamped his own brand of attacking football on the club, one that is regarded as being synonymous with The Gunners.
During his tenure in North London, the Frenchman has presided over more victories, recorded a higher win ratio and accumulated more trophies than any of his predecessors, seeing the 67 year-old spark rivalries with numerous managers including the now-retired Sir Alex Ferguson.
The pair clashed during the early years of Wenger’s tenure, although the relationship improved towards the end of Ferguson’s reign with the Scotsman still maintaining a deep respect for the Frenchman today. And, Ferguson’s son, Darren, is coincidentally Doncaster Rovers’ manager.
The 45 year-old was appointed Doncaster boss in 2015, however failed to steer Rovers away from the League One relegation places during his first season at the helm. Nevertheless, Ferguson’s Rovers were promoted back to the third-tier at the first attempt.
The Scotsman, according to retired midfielder Richie Wellens (who played under both Ferguson junior and senior), possesses many of his father’s managerial characteristics, particularly when giving team-talks. Furthermore, Ferguson has implemented his own attacking brand of football (like Wenger), although this approach can leave the Doncaster defence a little vulnerable.
Key Men – Rotation And Strength
Arsenal are likely to field a rotated side as in recent early-round League Cup games, making it difficult to predict Wenger’s starting eleven. However, certain players seem likely to play.
Goalkeeper David Ospina will probably deputise for Petr Čech. The Colombian played all 90 minutes as The Gunners defeated 1. FC Köln last Thursday in the Europa League.
Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding are shoe-ins to feature in Arsenal’s defence, whether it be a back-three or a back-four. The trio accumulated 34 Premier League appearances between them last season. (Chambers spent the campaign at Middlesbrough.)
Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Mohamed Elneny are likely to feature in The Gunners’ midfield. Furthermore, the fixture could see England international Jack Wilshere make a return to starting action for the first time since suffering a hairline fracture to his left fibula last season.
17 year-old Reiss Nelson will probably feature in Arsenal’s attack, after the forward was subbed on in The Gunners’ Europa League victory against 1. FC Köln last week. However, it may be the case that Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud start, as they have been given few minutes lately.
Doncaster Rovers are almost certain to field a strong side with Arsenal being two divisions higher than them. However, Ferguson’s starting eleven for the fixture is certainly not predictable, with recent form forcing the Scotsman to make change after change to his line-up.
Ian Lawlor is likely to start as goalkeeper. The Irishman has played well this season and could find himself playing at a higher level and, perhaps, on the international stage in the future.
Ferguson will probably opt for the centre-back pairing of Joe Wright and Andy Butler at the heart of Doncaster’s defence, whether it be in a three or a four. The duo have started all eight of Doncaster’s League One games this season, keeping two clean sheets in the process.
Jordan Houghton, Tommy Rowe and James Coppinger should feature in midfield, provided that they are deemed fit enough to play. The trio played a vital role in Rovers’ promotion last season.
Alfie May should start in the Doncaster attack, after providing much-needed energy and pace. The forward is likely to be partnered by last season’s top scorer John Marquis, with Ferguson favouring the 26 year-old despite his recent performances being rather underwhelming.
Last Time Out – Late Drama At Belle Vue
The last meeting between the two sides came in the December of 2005, as Dave Penney’s third-tier Rovers hosted Arsène Wenger’s top-tier Gunners in the 5th round of the Carling Cup.
The first-half began in Doncaster’s favour and Belle Vue was rocking after four minutes: following a flick by forward Paul Heffernan, Scotsman Michael MCINDOE ran at the Arsenal defence before squeezing the ball past Arsenal ‘keeper Manuel Almunia. 1-0.
And, matters became worse for The Gunners when Dutchman Robin Van Persie limped out of the action, forcing Wenger into an early change. Nevertheless, replacement Nicklas Bendtner had Arsenal’s best chance of the half, seeing a header saved by Rovers stopper Jan Budtz.
Doncaster started well in the second-half, with Irishman Sean Thornton having an edge of the box shot tipped away by Almunia. Then, the Spaniard beat away Heffernan’s effort, before saving a rebound from striker Lewis Guy. But, the Rovers could not find a second goal.
Soon, Penney’s side were left ruing this as Arsenal equalised: after finding space, Ghanaian Quincy OWUSU-ABEYIE saw his clipped shot spin into the net past a stranded Budtz. 1-1.
The Gunners then came to life, with Aliaksandr Hleb threatening. Nevertheless, despite the midfielder’s best efforts, Doncaster held firm and the game went to extra time.
The first-half of extra time was an even affair, but Rovers took the lead: after taking the ball from Almunia, Swiss defender Philippe Senderos dallied and substitute Paul GREEN converted. 2-1.
The second-half of extra time saw Doncaster try desperately to see out the game, although Arsenal equalised with just seconds remaining: Ivorian Emmanuel Eboue sent a cross into the box, which defensive-midfielder Gilberto SILVA got onto the end of to equalise. 2-2.
The full-time whistle sounded shortly, sending the game to penalties: Rovers had beaten Manchester City on penalties in the competition’s 2nd round, although there was to be no repeat as Welshman Neil Roberts hit the post and Almunia saved efforts from Heffernan and Green.
The Gunners progressed to the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by Wigan Athletic.