FA Cup third round action today as Sunderland visit the Emirates. There’s no doubt the cup has been fantastic for us in the last couple of seasons – two finals, two wins, lots of hugging, and you’ll never hear me say a bad word about it as a competition.
It was formative for me as an Arsenal fan. My first genuine Arsenal recollection is the 1979 final, and the joy of winning, even if it was tinged with late terror when United scored twice before Alan Sunderland got that late, great winner.
The following year we faced West Ham in the final. Arsenal defending the trophy against a Division 2 side, what could wrong? I tell you, learning about how football can lift you up, then so quickly afterwards deliver a kick in the bollocks is a great learning experience. Hopefully today our collective bollocks will remain un-booted.
However, there’s no question that this season the cup has to be viewed slightly differently given where we are in the league. Like it or not, that has to be the priority and decisions about the team today have to be made with that in mind, particularly when there’s so much coming up in the very near future that’s going to prove really testing.
A small group of players have played nearly all the games in recent weeks, and with Liverpool and Stoke away followed by Chelsea and Southampton, it would be a big surprise to me today if we didn’t see significant changes to the line-up. Of course the fact that we’ve got so many players missing through injury means it’s difficult to rotate as much as we might like, but we could see something like:
Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Campbell, Walcott
Depending on what the hell is going on with Mathieu Debuchy he could play at right back, but given that he was set to start against Bournemouth then pulled from the line-up late on when a loan offer came in it’s hard to know what might happen there. If he is available, Chambers could go to centre-half or even into midfield.
Central midfield is an area where we don’t have much in the way of choice. Arteta is back, but the question is can he last? Ideally you’d want to give Ramsey a rest too, so maybe we might see Flamini given the nod, or the manager go deep into the youths – although there doesn’t seem to be an outstanding candidate to do that job.
The changes we make will probably be offset by Sunderland’s need to keep players fresh as they fight a relegation battle, Sam Allardyce already angrily on the record as saying he’d be using players who won’t/don’t normally play in the Premier League.
Whatever the team we choose though, the manager is out to win it today, citing the importance of the cup to him during his time at the club:
The FA Cup has been fantastic for me. When I was a child I dreamed of winning the FA Cup and now, when I look back, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to Wembley so many times. It’s always a special moment but this is a new start all over again. It’s a long journey to get there and that’s why we have good memories. We want to start well again.
Let’s hope we have just that. We’ve got a good momentum going right now, and before we go to a troubled Liverpool on Wednesday it would be good to get another win under our belts.
Meanwhile, the manager more or less confirmed the signing of Mohamed Elneny from FC Basel. At his press conference yesterday he said:
The deal is complicated a little bit. We work hard on it, we hope in the next two to three days we get to the end of it.
It’s got to be the work permit thing more than anything else. There are no reports of financial issues between the clubs, and I can’t imagine we’re having problems providing him with acceptable personal terms. Once that red tape is cleared, we should have a new player on our books, which is obviously a good thing, and he may not be the last:
The only signing? I don’t rule out anybody else. He Elneny will at least be one of the signings and comes into an area where we are short at the moment.
So, let’s see what happens there. Once more Wenger spoke about Debuchy’s possible departure, and touched on the Serge Gbabry situation which isn’t as cut and dried as it appeared to be earlier in the week. There was also a ticket price freeze announcement which, considering the excess of TV money all the clubs are receiving, is the very least that should happen.
And almost finally, Mesut Ozil did a Twitter Q&A yesterday, most of the time these things are pretty lame. ‘What is your favourite moment?’, ‘What is your bestest ever goal?’, but there were a couple of crackers from the German yesterday, so hats off to him (you might need to click on them to get the full context):
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) January 8, 2016
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) January 8, 2016
Remember, there’s still time to listen to this week’s Arsecast, which is full of footballing goodness this week as I chat to Ken Early from Second Captains. Listen on site, via iTunes or through Acast. Get it into ya!
As ever we’ll have a live blog for the Sunderland game so if you’re stuck doing Saturday things and can’t see the game, come join us for up to the second live commentary. Details later, in the meantime have a good one.