We start our FA Cup defense on Saturday by hosting Sunderland in the 3rd round. Once again we play a Premier League side, having played Hull City last year and Spurs before that – in fact, I don’t remember when was the last time we played a lower-league opposition in the 3rd round, but that’s a topic for another day.
For now, we just have to be grateful it’s a home fixture. However, the timing is weird – why does the fixture have to held on the weekend? Why not play it midweek as usual, with Premier League games either side of it? I don’t get it, but it’s something we’ll have to work around.
Team news update
“The team news is that, from last week, we have no big injuries, and the squad will be similar to the squad who played the last game against Newcastle. Will a young player or two start? I haven’t decided yet.”
It looks like heavy rotation is not on Arsene’s mind, especially in the light of this bit:
“The thinking is to give absolutely everything to qualify. We are the holders of the cup and I know as well by experience that it is very important that you get in the competition and that you have a successful third round. It’s a tricky one, always, the third round.”
What further complicates matters is no players returning, barring Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard played for our reserve team on the January 5th and looks set to be included in the squad for the first time since late November.
The bit of news everyone was waiting for with bated breath regarded Alexis and, unfortunately, the Chilean will not only miss the Sunderland game, he’ll also be unavailable for our trip to Anfield, with Wenger stating Sanchez could make his comeback against Stoke.
This situation worries me, I have to admit. A player who picked up a minor strain on November 29th and was set to return against City on December 21st is still out and he’ll remain out for at least another week. In case Alexis really does make his comeback against Stoke, it’ll mean 7 weeks on the sidelines. My unfounded fear is that the Chilean won’t make the Stoke squad, though. Hope I’m wrong and it has nothing to do with reality.
On a brighter note, Francis Coquelin started light running a week ago and is on course to return in early February, while Rosicky joins full training next week, so his return should be imminent. Arsene also gave an update on Mohamed Elneny:
“It is complicated a little bit but we are working hard on it and hopefully in the next two or three days we will get to the end of it.”
Can Elneny make it in time for Liverpool? I certainly hope so, though Arteta’s return provides us with a bit of safety net in this regard, meaning our need is no longer burning.
Arsene was also quizzed on whether Elneny will be the only signing Arsenal completes this window:
“The only one? I don’t rule out anyone else, but he will be at least one signing that comes into an area where we are short at the moment.”
To me it sounds exactly like Elneny will be the only one, though it’s hard to second-guess Arsene. I wouldn’t bet on anyone else coming in, though, especially since Arteta is back, while Coquelin and Rosicky are also nearing their respective returns.
Finally, Wenger shed some light on Gnabry’s situation at West Brom. There were rumours circulating earlier this week the German will return any day, however Arsene denied these:
“We have a commitment. The player wanted to go there. We have a commitment with West Brom. If they want to cancel the loan, they have to contact us and speak about it. But at the moment, we are not there.”
I’m not sure what’s happening there (apart from the fact Gnabry clearly isn’t getting game time), so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. The German’s situation was brilliantly dissected by @arseblog here if you are interested (keep in mind it was written before Arsene denied Gnabry is due to return).
While Wenger said the squad will be roughly the same (plus Arteta) that faced Newcastle, I’ll be mightily surprised if we are not treated to at least some changes. We face Liverpool and Stoke next, both very hard away games, so I’m not sure putting a further strain on our starters by fielding them all in a cup game is the way to go.
I think David Ospina is likely to replace Petr Cech in goal (the Colombian will soon have the imprint of his arse on the bench if he doesn’t get game time), while Gabriel, who was talked up by the manager after the Bournemouth game, is also due a start. I have a feeling Wenger will give Monreal a rest by replacing him with Gibbs, but Mert and Bellerin are likely to feature again from the first minutes. Might Chambers get a start on the right? We should, after all, be preparing ourselves for a world without Debuchy, so I’d say it is sensible to give our back-up right-back some minutes.
However, I don’t think Wenger will introduce three changes to our defense at once. He rarely does it and we know how it can backfire. Besides, Chambers last played at RB in December 2014 (barring his brief cameo against United last March). Reintroducing the young Englishman on the flank at a time when we don’t even know who’ll protect him on the wing may not be such a bright idea.
As for our midfield, I expect it to stay the same. Elneny is still sorting out his papers, Arteta has only just recovered and is unlikely to play the full 90, while Rosicky isn’t even in full training yet. So unless Wenger throws in Chambers to partner Flamini and rest Ozil, or fields a youngster (which is not out of the realms of possibility), there isn’t much scope for rotation. Whether our trio of Flamini, Ramsey and Ozil be able to play three games in 8 days is another thing entirely, one for the manager to address.
Finally, I’m pretty certain we’ll see both Ox and Theo start, so the only question is, who will be the third guy. Seeing as we need Giroud for both our next league games, I would give him a breather. Yes, like the rest of the team he had a full week to recover, but again, given our hectic (and rather congested, especially if we progress in the cup) schedule in January and February, Arsene also has to play the long-term game by managing the fitness of key players, a group to which Giroud no doubt belongs.
So I’d stick Theo up top and Campbell on the wing. The Costa-Rican should be fresher than Ollie, having only made a cameo against Newcastle, so there you have it.
Predicted line-up: Ospina – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Gabriel – Gibbs – Flamini – Ramsey – Ozil – Campbell – Oxlade – Walcott
As always, I believe we have what it takes to go through. Sun isn’t exactly shining out of Sunderland’s … ahem … players. After losing to us back in December, Sam Allardyce’s men went on to lose 4 consecutive league games, only recently ending this streak by beating Aston Villa at home. If you want to have a more detailed look at what Sunderland has to offer, I suggest you check out this quite brilliant “View from the opposition” piece.
As for me, I’ll keep my fingers crossed the Gunners will do the job and not pick any injuries along the way. The fun begins in the earnest soon. Hold onto your seats, ladies and gentlemen.
Until later and come on you Gunners.