Arsenal need to rest starters for Sunday, play the kids vs. Ostersunds
Arsenal have two cup games on the agenda this week, although you wouldn't know it if you were going on the conversation among Gunners supporters. The fixture against Ostersunds is passing almost without mention, as eyes and tongues understandably focus on Sunday's Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. It's clear where the fans' focus is, and Arsene Wenger should follow suit. With just a few days between the two games, there is no need to risk the first team in the Europa League.
This is the definition of a meaningless contest. Arsenal got the job done in the first leg, coming through with a comfortable 3-0 win. The Gunners deserve considerable credit for the professional manner in which they dealt with the difficult conditions to effectively secure progression. At this stage, it would take something unprecedented, even by Arsenal's standards, to mess this up.
That affords Wenger the opportunity to rotate his squad with Wembley in mind. In truth, he took several precautions in the first leg, leaving the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere at home. Perhaps he was resting their weary legs, or perhaps he had concerns about fielding such injury-prone players on a plastic pitch. Either way, it's unthinkable that either will be involved in a fixture that should be a formality.
In fact, it's quite possible that Wenger could leave out all 11 of the players earmarked to start against City. Calum Chambers played in the first leg, and it's likely that he'll get another run-out in the back four alongside his England Under-21 colleague Rob Holding. Sead Kolasinac is another likely to feature in defence -- although he began the season as first choice, he has struggled to hold down a place recently. Wenger seems to harbour concerns about his ability to play as a full-back in a four-man defence, and this is an opportunity for the Bosnian to set about proving otherwise.
In midfield, Ainsley Maitland-Niles will be eager to make the most of another opportunity to play in his preferred position of central midfield. He might not be the only Arsenal youngster with a chance to impress in the middle of the park. Joe Willock has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign, and a place in the starting XI of a knock-out European tie would be another major milestone for him. Arsenal fans might also hope to catch a glimpse of Reiss Nelson -- arguably the most naturally gifted of the current academy crop. Like Maitland-Niles, most of his appearances this season have come in unfamiliar positions. It would be fantastic to see what he can do when deployed as a legitimate No. 10 or an inside forward.
However, at the two extremes of the pitch, Wenger might be tempted to turn to senior men. Petr Cech has already confirmed that Arsenal's "cup keeper" David Ospina will get the nod at Wembley, and the Ostersunds game is another chance for him to shake off any rust and improve his match sharpness ahead of the big day.
Danny Welbeck is another who would surely benefit from such a run-out. In the absence of Alexandre Lacazette, Welbeck started the first leg but looked decidedly out of sorts. The chances are he will be needed in some capacity at Wembley -- it should not be forgotten that in last season's FA Cup semi-final win over City, he came off the bench to play a crucial role. If he can get a confidence-boosting hour of football under his belt on Thursday, it could make him a far more effective substitute come the weekend.
Wenger might wish he didn't have to face Ostersunds on Thursday, but for Ospina and Welbeck it could be an invaluable tune-up for Wembley. The rest of the Arsenal stars, however, should be granted the night off.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.