After Arsenal’s last-gasp victory over Burnley last week, it would be extremely well received by Gooners everywhere if we could have a game that didn’t cause a coronary.
That wouldn’t be Arsenal though, would it?
This weekend’s bout of panic is brought to us by the FA Cup, as the Gunners take on Southampton for the right to progress to the next round. Our team will have to do so without the presence of our manager, as Wenger was slapped with a four game touchline ban to go with his £25k fine.
This means that Steve Bould will be belting out the instructions from the touchline, and woe betide anyone who ignores the Assistant Manager with the steely glare. It is debateable what difference will be made without Wenger and his infamous coat, but the instruction for the whole team will already be in place beforehand.
Team selection may vary a little from last-weeks agonising win. There is also more to choose from in recent games as Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy have returned to full training. They will more than likely not be part of the squad as match fitness will still be an issue, but Danny Welbeck may just be handed his first start since his return. Theo Walcott is also back in contention.
David Ospina has been the cup keeper this season so he will likely be installed between the sticks, but as far as the rest of the lineup will resemble, it is unclear. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez may be prime candidates to sit out the match with Chelsea on the horizon, but there is plenty of time for recovery. Lucas Perez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be pushing for starts, and Olivier Giroud should keep his place, but it is all hearsay until the lineup is announced.
Saints boss Claude Puel will be in buoyant mood after dumping Liverpool out of the EFL Cup and nabbing a final place. He will though, have to deal with a host of injuries.
Virgil Van Dijk, Charlie Austin, James Ward-Prowse, Jay Rodriguez, Florin Gardos, Jeremy Pied, Matt Targett and Sofiane Boufal are all missing. That is one long list, but Puel still has plenty to choose from, as shown from his teams excellent victory over Liverpool in midweek.
Whoever Puel plumps for, they will be a confident bunch, and not because of the booked trip to Wembley. They have a great record against the Gunners, and en route to the EFL Cup Final, they have knocked Arsenal out. So they have previous for dumping us out of cups.
They are in great form overall against us, as they have kept four clean sheets from the last five we have played. There is some consolation for Gooners before kickoff however.
Southampton have never – NEVER – beaten us in the FA Cup. The last time we met in this famous competition? 2003. The Final. We won 1-0 thanks to a Bobbi Pires goal. So, yeah, there is something to hang onto.
This match is going to be hellishly tough. If we want to keep in this trophy, then we must play far better than we have done recently, and we must get over the fact we will be missing a fair few midfielders from our ranks.
We could do with some of our top players rising to form to make the difference. It is high time we stopped relying on Alexis or Giroud to bail us out.
Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lucas, Alexis, Giroud.
Predicted Scoreline – I’m feeling strangely optimistic. 2-0 Arsenal.