Arsenal travel to Deepdale to take on Preston North End in the battle of the ‘Invincibles’, for the right to progress to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup.
The match will be a welcome distraction for Gooners after recent displays in the League which have been far from what is required of title contenders. Arsenal’s last outing was the crazy 3-3 draw with Bournemouth, in which Arsenal salvaged a point with a valiant twenty minute comeback which tried to paper over a sixty minute period of play which was one of the poorest in recent memory.
Bournemouth deserved huge credit for their ability to smother Arsenal before they could formulate any sort of attack. The Cherries press strangled the Gunners, and they were well worth their 3-0 lead.
The opponent in this game may come from the Championship, but they will not be simply making up the numbers. Simon Grayson’s team will be looking to make life difficult for their more illustrious foes and put on a show for their fans.
Arsene Wenger intimated in his press conference that changes will be made. Danny Welbeck is expected to make the bench after being absent since April, but Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla and Kieran Gibbs are definitely out.
Another who has been ruled out is Francis Coquelin, who injured his hamstring in the Bournemouth game in the first half and has been given a 3-4 week layoff. This leaves Arsenal’s centre a little light on numbers, with Mohamed Elneny also unable to play as he is playing for Egypt in the AFCON. The only fit options are Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also a shout. Ainslie Maitland-Niles has also played in the holding role and with so many injuries in a concentrated area, he could well be included in some form.
Arsene Wenger also confirmed that Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez will be rested for the game. The assumption for their replacements would be David Ospina, Gabriel and Lucas Perez, but the first eleven is unconfirmed. Theo Walcott may also feature after recovering from his ailment.
It is good to see so many rotations in place, especially with so many injuries to contend with. It is testament to our strong squad. It is also important we do not disrespect or underestimate Preston North End, which can only invite disaster.
The FA Cup is still important and should be on our radar. Simon Grayson has some powerful players at his disposal, and Aiden Mcgeady is as unpredictable as a winger can be. Grayson has faced Arsenal three times as a manager, all whilst managing Leeds. He has lost two and drawn one. Perhaps the most famous was when Le King returned and created a memory that would never die.
Grayson would just be happy with a win, but so would Wenger. Cup progression is the target and the Gunners are expected to roll over Preston. With a much changed lineup, the chemistry will be affected and the fluency will be lost, at least partially.
It will be a tough game if Arsenal get sucked into a pattern. If talent rises to the top, then Arsenal will be in the fourth round.
Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Jenkinson, Gabriel, Holding, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Lucas, Giroud.
Predicted Scoreline – 3-1 to Arsenal