So we begin our second defence of the FA Cup in as many years. Successive triumphs in 2014 and 2015 were my first trophy winning experiences as an Arsenal fan and it was then I realised how stupid arguments such as ‘It’s only the FA Cup’ or ‘The League Cup is not even a major trophy!’ were. Nothing comes close to winning a trophy for fans and comments such as the above are nothing but a load of rubbish. So are the remarks about how Arsenal ‘only beat’ Hull City and Aston Villa to take home the trophies. The obvious disrespect to those clubs aside, it is not Arsenal’s fault that Chelsea lost at home to Bradford (Hilarious!) or that Liverpool couldn’t beat a Tim Sherwood team!
Our first challenge this year will be a visiting Sunderland team whose manager has ripped into the scheduling of games after the cup weekend. To be fair to Big Sam, the sheer number of games is scandalous but as I read somewhere, the Premier League doesn’t have much choice given that UEFA prevents any league matches being held during Champions League match days. The round of 16 games itself last for four weeks and given the FA Cup’s replay rules, I can see why the league games are being held thick and fast in January.
So how does this run of games affect Arsene’s team selection? We travel to Liverpool and Stoke in a space of 4 days and the manager really hasn’t got much in the form of quality backup to make major changes. Our priority this season is the league and I strongly believe Arsenal’s away form will determine the destiny of the league. But we’ve got the chance of becoming the first team in 130 years to notch a FA Cup hat-trick and are two-time defending champions. Aren’t those reasons enough for us to give the competition all we’ve got?
We’ll find out come Saturday. Anyway, in the run up to the game, I caught up with Gary McLaughlin from We Are Wearside. Gary is a season ticket holder at the Stadium of Light and read below to find out what he thinks about Big Sam, Arsenal’s title chances and much more.
- Introduce ‘We Are Wearside’ to our readers.
We Are Wearside is the newest of the big Sunderland blogs having only started in 2013. We are small group of lads who mainly write match reaction articles, a bit like the rambling conversations you have with the lads in the pub after the match or at work on Monday. Much more to come this year!
- What’s your take on the FA Cup’s stature given that both teams are likely to field weakened line-ups?
To be fair to Sunderland and Arsenal, and the rest of the Premier League teams, the ridiculous fixture congestion will play a bigger part in the weakened sides than the stature of the FA Cup. I feel like the FA Cup is still important to most clubs, but the sheer amount of money in the Premier League inevitably means that the choice between three points and progressing in the cup is a no brainer.
- What is your favourite FA Cup memory?
Unfortunately I was not around the last time we won the FA Cup, in 1973 and I was only four in 1992 when we lost in the final against Liverpool. The only other time we have made it to the latter stages of the FA Cup was a dreadful experience witnessing us play awful against Millwall in 2004, as Tim Cahill scored his first of one hundred goals he ended up scoring against us in his career to knock us out of the semi-final. My favourite memory would be the 5th round of that cup run, when Tommy Miller scored two in extra time (which remains to this day the only thing he ever did in his career) away to Birmingham.
My favourite cup moment in general was, without a doubt, Fabio Borini’s goal at Wembley in the 2014 League Cup final – I have never felt a moment like it!
- Who will be the key players for Sunderland on Saturday in a heavily rotated squad?
The news in the grapevine is that Jordan Pickford will start. He has been touted as one of the best young keepers around so I am looking forward to seeing him get a chance. Otherwise, Jeremain Lens has been frozen out of the starting line up recently due to a bust up with Allardyce, however I would expect him to start. If he has found some kind of work ethic he will be our main danger.
- What are the plans for the January transfer window?
The same as every window probably, get linked with hundreds of players (including some good ones), buy a couple who end up being no better or worse than what we have. We need defenders, desperately.
- Any young talents to look out for on Saturday?
I mentioned Pickford earlier, Duncan Watmore should start and he has burst onto the seen the season, although he has had a quiet couple of games. There is a possibility Tom Beadling will get a run out too, he is a defender who is well thought of and we have fitness issues at the back.
- Would it be fair to say Sam Allardyce hasn’t had the impact he was expected to? What’s your opinion on him going forward?
No, he has made the exact impact I expected. We have improved, put in a few decent defensive performances but to avoid coining an old phrase about polishing excrement, this is a really tough job. If we can sign the defenders we need, we have a decent chance of staying up. His football is not as turgid as he gets accused of to be fair and we saw much worse when Martin O’Neill and Gus Poyet were here.
- What have you made of Arsenal this season?
At the start of each season me and the lads from work draft out our final Premier League table and for the first time I picked Arsenal to win the league. Arsene Wenger has been slowly building an excellent squad and I think there is a depth about it that has not been there in recent years. The midfield is the best in the league, in my opinion, the defence is far better and Olivier Giroud is underrated. I can only envisage Manchester City challenging as Leicester will inevitably fall away given how tiny their squad is and Spurs always have a mid-season slump. City do have Sergio Aguero mind you, who is a bit special.
- What’s your take on Arsenal’s successive FA Cups, including a record breaking 12th win?
I do not have any particular affiliation with Arsenal but even I felt relieved after the cup win over Hull. Maybe that was because of my disdain for Steve Bruce, but also because the trophy-less run was getting silly. The wins do not surprise me and it is no co-incidence they have come as the squad has started to take shape.
- Probable starting XI and score prediction.
I think we will line up like this;
Jordan Pickford, DeAndre Yedlin, John O’Shea, Sebastian Coates, Patrick van Aanholt, Yann M’Vila, Lee Cattermole, Jordi Gomez, Jeremain Lens, Duncan Watmore, Danny Graham.
And lose comfortably, probably 3-0.
- Predictions for the FA Cup this season.
Sunderland will go out on Saturday, Arsenal will get quite far and the trophy will stay in London – but I fancy Chelsea to win it. With them already out of the title and European race, they should be going all out for this trophy.
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