After Arsenal’s recent successful exploits in obtaining top spot in the Premier League, focus now shifts on a competition in which the Gunners have enjoyed in recent years – the F.A Cup.
Today’s Third Round opponents are Sunderland, and Big Sam Allardyce surely will have his mind set on Premiership survival rather than a cup run – will his team selection mirror his thinking?
By the sounds of a rather spiky press conference recently, it would seem that big changes in the team are afoot. When asked about his team selection, Allardyce rather heatedly spoke about the Premier League foolishly scheduling a midweek fixture just days after this cup fixture. He also stated that he shouldn’t be singled out when he rotates the side for this match as he has no choice due to his lads being ‘flogged’.
In regards to Arsenal, Arsene Wenger is also expected to make adjustments to his side as injuries have once again cursed the Gunners. Arsenal cannot be accused of taking this competition lightly as they have won the cup in consecutive seasons, but a few of their leading lights may just be sitting out this game.
It shouldn’t be thought that this will be a weakened side, as some of the fringe players in the Gunners squad are chomping at the bit to showcase their abilities. One who will definitely be missing out though is Alexis Sanchez, who is still on the road to recovery. Arsene Wenger revealed in his pre-match press conference that he is nearing fitness but this match, plus the Liverpool game in midweek, will just be out of reach for the Chilean.
Hector Bellerin has also revealed – via social media – that he will not be part of the matchday squad as he is in Amsterdam on a short break, so will Mathieu Debuchy get a chance to put himself in the shop window? Or will Calum Chambers fill the right side of defence?
Other players who may be rested for the Liverpool game are Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil. This may mean Theo Walcott will get his first chance as a striker after his recent injury layoff. Other changes may include Koscielny resting his troublesome tendons and Brazilian hardman Gabriel taking his place.
Another who may come in from the cold is Keiran Gibbs. The England left-back hasn’t particularly shone this season, but nor has he been erroneous in his displays when given the chance. His spell on the sidelines is simply because the man who has replaced him this and last season – Nacho Monreal – has been flawless in his performances. The Spaniard has earned justified rave reviews and surely must be considered as the best left-back in the Premier League. Gibbs will not be looking at the exit door at Arsenal, unlike Debuchy, but with Euro 2016 around the corner, he will be seeking assurances about his future. He can start by showing Arsene what he can do on the pitch, and this is the perfect opportunity.
Alex Iwobi, the exciting Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Krystian Bielik, Jon Pleguezelo and other youngsters will be pushing for starts, but a solid frame will be needed if Arsenal want to avoid an early stoppage of their Cup defence. Club Skipper Mikel Arteta has recovered from injury and will look to make some impact upon the game. His experience could be vital if youth is sprinkled within the team.
Sunderland, as mentioned previously, are firmly focused on Premiership survival, and their team selection will show this. Allardyce has recalled young Under21 Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from his loan at Preston North End and may make his debut, and players such as Jermain Defoe, Yann M’Vila, Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Ola Toivenen may be rested. Duncan Watmore, the local lad adored by the Mackems, is looking to impress again on the pitch after earning his degree off the pitch, and Fabio Borini may get another nod in attack.
Sebastian Coates, DeAndre Yedlin and Jordi Gomez are expected to take to the field, and they will be under scrutiny from what looks to be a rapid Arsenal attack. Whilst Sunderland will be looking to avoid shipping goals, their boss will be also keenly aware of the need to avoid more injuries. Key men such as Younes Kaboul, Sebastian Larsson and Jack Rodwell are all out for this game and they will be needed for the Premier League end game.
Gooners will want their club to be the first in the modern era to achieve a hat-trick of F.A Cup wins – only two clubs have done it and they were Wanderers and Blackburn in the 1800’s ! – and fans have enjoyed the recent cup runs and trips to Wembley.
So, changes planned, chances to impress and a cup to defend. So many different facets to look out for during this game, it should be a great spectacle. Winning is a habit so with the Liverpool game on the horizon and the game at Anfield, Arsene will impress upon his charges how vital a good performance will be.
If you are lucky enough to be in attendance, buy the programme and keep your eye out for an article of mine which will be part of the programme! #UTA #COYG