It’s the semifinal of the FA Cup and we take on Reading. I think that, while our opponents should be treated with respect, it’s hard to argue Arsenal are the overwhelming favourites to win this one. The biggest challenge will be to keep the levels of concentration high:
“It is going to be their biggest game of the season so to mentally prepare that is going to be difficult, not just to match their physicality and mental strength but to do more, to be on the ball from the start.”
These are Mertesacker’s words. Arsene said something along the same lines:
“I’m playing my 10th semi-final on Saturday so that means we know how to prepare. We know as well that it is always tricky.”
However, I think we can look at Middlesbrough and Burnley games as the most recent example of our mental readiness. We took neither team lightly and got the results in the end. I’m not sure we would have done it even last year. This season we finally realised no opponent can be taken for granted (did Monaco play a part?) and approach each game with the same intensity and preparation. Let’s hope it’s also the case this time around.
Team news update
Our only absentees are Oxlade and Arteta:
“We have a big squad available for selection and we just have Arteta (match fitness) and Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) unavailable. Everybody else should be alright.”
Today I’ve heard worrying rumours that Arteta has suffered a setback in training, while Oxlade will need an operation. Both can be thus ruled out till the end of the season. However, these rumours are unconfirmed, so don’t panic just yet.
Especially since the other 22 senior players are all fit and available. Including Jack, Debuchy and Diaby. And that makes picking a squad fiendishly hard:
“Everybody feels that it’s difficult to get in the team. All the players have top, top quality. Of course it’s difficult for me as well to make these kind of decisions.”
Nonetheless, let’s try putting a squad together.
Szczesny will start in goal, this bit is clear. How our defense lines up is another question entirely and, personally, I’d like to see some changes to our usual back four of Bellerin, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Monreal. Mostly because I have the Chelsea game in mind.
I’d like to see Debuchy and Gabriel get the nod on the 26th ahead of Bellerin and Mertesacker. The former seems to have hit a wall and is anyway not experienced enough for me to face the double challenge of Azpilicueta and Hazard. The latter is more robust and quick than Mert to deal with Drogba/Remy/Costa. Not that Drogba (who is the most likely candidate is quick, he’s just a bully. Not sure Mert will deal with it).
In order for these two to perform at the Emirates in eight days, they need to get some minutes against Reading. So I’d pick Debuchy, Gabriel, Koscielny and Monreal.
Coquelin can’t be given a rest simply because Flamini is unreliable and Arteta is out. However, Cazorla, Ozil and Ramsey have played quite a lot lately and I wonder whether any of them might use a break.
Also, I have a feeling Wenger will start Wilshere. In what capacity, if so? Definitely not at Ozil’s expense. That means either Santi or Ramsey should give way to Jack. Wilshere for Cazorla is the more obvious solution, since CM is Jack’s natural position and he possesses more or less the same qualities as the Spaniard: technique, passing range & and the ability to dribble past opponents.
But we also know Wenger likes to play his footballers into form by putting them on the wing, thus I do not exclude Wilshere slotting in for Ramsey.
I think leaving Ramsey on the flank isn’t wise anyway. We need a proper winger there. So I’d either play Welbeck on the right or Walcott, should Wenger decide to give Giroud a breather and deploy Danny centrally.
This latter scenario is quite possible, in my opinion. We know how Arsene shuffles his pack a bit for cup games and Welbeck for Giroud will make perfect sense. Or, rather, it will be very typical for the boss.
Playing Welbeck will also enable Arsene to finally start Walcott on the right. This way the balance will be preserved: without the ball Theo will swap places with Welbeck, thus effectively becoming our de-facto CF, while Welbz will help out Debuchy or Bellerin in defense. And then the Englishmen will again swap places when we win the ball back.
As it’s quite often the case with Arsenal, we have the required quality to beat the opposition. A casual look at our squad will also tell you we have an abundance of options. The trick will be not to just show up for the game, it will be to really take Reading seriously and play with them. Run around, pass the ball, take the shots. Put the nominal hosts under pressure early on, like we did against Liverpool.
And after that it will be down to our finishing. Reading are struggling for form at the moment, failing to win any of their last 6 Championship games. They sit 18th in the table and have absolutely nothing to lose in the semi-final. That’s why they’ll be dangerous. I expect them to shut shop and try to withstand our pressure while playing on the counter. Of course the situation may change should we go 1 or 2 up, but my bet for their initial approach is defense first.
That’s it for now. Here’s for a good showing that will book us another trip to Wembley in May.
Come on you Gunners!