@Valley Parade on Tuesday 11 December, 2012
By Mark Scully
At full time on Saturday after the deserved 1-0 win over fellow promotion chasers Torquay United, there was one chant reverberating around the four stands inside Valley Parade. ‘Bring on the Arsenal, Bring on the Arsenal’.
Personally I wanted three points against The Gulls more than any result against the North London club tonight. As Parky has said since the draw was made: make sure the league form is still strong by the time the tie comes around and we can all enjoy the occasion. That’s exactly what The Bantams have done.
In terms of this tie against the Gooners, everyone from the outside looking in will believe – and rightly so – that Arsene Wenger’s men should comfortably progress into the Semi Final of the League Cup. But stranger things have happened. Over the years various clubs have knocked out more illustrious opponents. It might seem a little far-fetched to believe that Bradford can knock out one of the European heavyweights, but football is built on dreams and believing the impossible is possible. It is the magic of the cup after all.
The buzz around the club all season has been remarkable, a huge transformation from the previous years’ depressions. And, squaring up to Arsenal, we currently boast an unbeaten home record against the former Premier League Champions. A 2-1 win under Paul Jewell in our first year in the top flight thanks to goals from the Deano’s Windass and Saunders, before holding Arsenal in the second season at the top table of English football 1-1 thanks to Stuart McCall’s early strike cancelled out by England left back Ashley Cole’s leveller.
The Arsenal team that day consisted of some of the world’s greats across various stages of their careers, such as David Season, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, Ashley Cole, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry. The current crop of players that Arsene Wenger has put together might not be considered in the same breath as the stars performing at Highbury at the turn of the millennium, but they are still a very capable team. If they play to their potential, Arsenal should pick of The Bantams with ease.
The win on Saturday, to go with the victory at Port Vale in the JPT last week, will have certainly given Phil Parkinson food for thought with regard to the team selection for the Arsenal game. One of the biggest dilemmas is in goal: will Matt Duke or Jon McLaughlin get the nod? The latter has been generally used as the cup keeper in the FA Cup and JPT Trophy, but the former has been used more in the League Cup. Given the fact Duke is deservedly the current number one, I would expect him to be in the sticks come Tuesday night. The back four in my eyes picks itself with Stephen Darby and the superb James Meredith occupying the full back slots, with Carl McHugh and Rory McArdle forming the centre of the defence.
In midfield Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle will square up against possible opponents Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshire, out wide I’d go for Will Atkinson on one wing and down the other – after his introduction on Saturday gave us even more impetus – I’d give West Ham loanee Blair Turgott the opportunity to showcase his talents. One thing we lacked at times against Torquay was real pace out wide, but once Turgott entered the fold he gave us that speed on the flank.
Up top I’d expect Nahki Wells and James Hanson to take on the mighty Arsenal back line. Whether they go with a full strength defence of Mertesacker and Vermaelen, or whether the kids get a run out, both Wells and Hanson will give them a run for their money.
Chances are Arsene Wenger will shuffle his pack. Players such as Lukasz Fabianski, Laurent Koscielny, Andre Santos, Sebastien Squillaci, Andrey Arshavin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marouane Chamakh are all likely to play at Valley Parade. Will they fancy it at Bradford on a cold wet December night? I hope not. If they don’t under-estimate us then, as mentioned, it could be a straight forward win for the north London club. If they fail to give us full respect, then just maybe one of the biggest shocks of the competition will be made.
Given the fact Arsenal haven’t won a trophy for some time, and the pressure year on year is growing on Wenger to deliver, if he did play a weakened side and crashed out of the cup it could be another Graham Taylor turnip head or Steve McLaren wholly with a brolly scenario all over again. Unforgivable in some people’s eyes perhaps.
There’s never a good time to play Arsenal, especially when you are a League Two side. But aside from their 2-0 win over West Brom on Saturday, the Gunners form has been sketchy of late. It could quite easily be 4, 5, 6-0 win to the visitors, but it could also be a famous night for The Bantams and we could end the night victorious.
One thing for sure, is I’m going to enjoy the occasion. These nights don’t come around very often and – win or lose – I’ll be a proud Bradford City fan who can hold his head up high.