The defence of the FA Cup we’ve won three times in the last four seasons begins today at the City Ground where we face managerless Nottingham Forest.
With lots of players out injured and unlikely to be risked for a cup game, it’s probable we’ll see a fairly changed side from Arsene Wenger. From David Ospina in goal, Per Mertesacker at the back, Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny in midfield, and Danny Welbeck up front, there are going to be players given a chance to remind the manager of what they’re capable of.
Wenger sounds a little wary of Forest and the challenge of the third round coming so quickly after the hectic festive schedule, saying:
It’s always difficult to start well in the competition and when you play away against a Championship team – it’s always very intense and the Championship teams are ready to face you.
For them, it’s a big challenge and you have to maintain your concentration coming out of a very loaded and congested period over Christmas. That’s never easy.
Having found it a little difficult to get the best from his best XI, it’ll be another challenge to get today’s selection to click. It would be fair to say that for the most part the Europa League/Carabao Cup performances have been functional at best. There was that big win at home against BATE Borisov, but in general the team hasn’t really found any rhythm.
Nevertheless, we’re into the knock-out stages of that competition, and into the semi-finals of the other one, so they are capable of getting results. Whether we go with three at the back or a back four, I’m not sure. Possibly the latter pushing an extra man into midfield. Wenger is contemplating using Ainsley Maitland-Niles in there, although the lack of an experienced option for left back – with Monreal and Kolasinac both out – could put the kibosh on that.
It will also be interesting to see if Theo Walcott starts. He’s featured throughout the season in the cup competitions, but rarely in the league, and although the manager said he wanted him to stay, cash-rich Southampton, flush with the Virgil van Dyke money, confirmed their interest in him yesterday. Whether that will have any influence on today’s team remains to be seen.
You would imagine today’s line-up will be not dissimilar from the one that will face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, so they’ll at least have a chance to get a little momentum going. Wenger says:
I overall believe that our recent performances have been very strong. It’s another opportunity in a different competition to give some competition to players that deserve it but also to show you can maintain the quality.
Fingers crossed they can start that today.
Meanwhile, there’s some interesting stuff from Arsene Wenger about working with Sven Mislintat, and how he’s getting settled into life at Arsenal. He played down suggestions that the German might bring a wealth of knowledge about unknown players, saying:
We know the players. We know. It’s not that we discover new names, we know every single player in Europe before Sven arrived. Sometimes, in a little club in Germany, he might know somebody we might ignore.
And then how it’s more of a challenge for the new man (and soon to arrive Definitely Not Director of Football Raul Sanllehi):
Look, it is important to find a new balance. For them, it’s more difficult than for me, because they have to adapt to a new environment, they discover suddenly a different structure and overall that is … at the moment a bit new and unusual because it’s an important period but we are not used to working together.
Wenger confirmed that the new signing this week, Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos, was a player recommended by Mislintat, which is obviously a first little test of what he might bring. Of course Arsenal are wealthy enough to sign big players for big prices, but anyone who thinks that will, or should, preclude us from trying to find some low price/low risk hidden gems who might develop into top players is mistaken.
That was part of what he did at Borussia Dortmund, and it’s also part of what we’ve done at this club down the years. It’s fair to say that we’ve had more misses than hits, but let’s see what else he can come up.
Finally for this morning, I’ve seen some very vague transfer links this morning with Bordeaux’s Brazilian forward Malcom. A player I now desperately want us to sign so the manager can play him left and then right, until people lose their shit and say ‘Why won’t he play Malcom in the middle?!’.
And on that note, have a great Sunday. Catch you on the live blog later for the Nottingham Forest game, and all the match stuff over on Arseblog News.