I think the possible team today is one of the most fascinating we’ve had in quite some time. It’s the third round of the FA Cup, we’re at home to Sunderland, with a manager in Sam Allardyce who has already suggested he will rotate a number of his players for the game today. At home we’d fancy our chances against a full-strength Sunderland team, so the fact that their side will obviously be weaker due to rotation, means that we should be favourites even more so to progress.
But it’s not the Sunderland side that intrigues me, obviously, it’s ours. Given that Arsene knows his opponent will field a weaker side, I wonder how much he is weighing up that he could rotate his side, perhaps even the whole team? There are certainly enough players on the fringes. Ospina, Debuchy, Chambers, Gabriel and Gibbs should all play, but what about Iwobi, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who impressed in the Emirates Cup in the summer, but hasn’t been seen in the first team since?
The side Arsene picks is also fascinating because of our injury list. Arsene confirmed yesterday that Arteta is back, but the continued absence of Rosicky, Welbeck and Wilshere will surely mean that he is forced to playing some players he would normally rest? What of Ramsey, for example, who has been susceptible to hamstring injuries in the past? I suppose the good thing is that he hasn’t been overloaded with games, having spent some time on the sidelines during the earlier part of the season, but I’m sure given the opportunity, Arsene would prefer to give him some time off. If you watch his presser from yesterday, you do get the impression that Ozil will be granted some leave, but he didn’t really rule anybody out who is currently fit, so you never know.
I suspect we’ll see a completely shuffled back five, Arteta and Ramsey in midfield, possibly with the Ox playing centrally and Iwobi and Campbell either side of Walcott. When Le Boss was asked about Walcott he did say that he hasn’t been overloaded with games, so I think he’ll start-up top, because Giroud has looked a little leggy at times during the festive period. A rest this weekend would probably do him the power of good. Perhaps a spot on the bench would be the best option for him.
If there is large-scale rotation on both sides, one thing is for sure, I don’t think we’ll get a classic FA Cup tie. Yes, I know all about the clichés of ‘getting the chance to show the manager what you can do’ and all that, but when you make large-scale changes you usually don’t get the fluidity in games. If that happens on both sides, it’s probably why we’re a 3pm kick off and not live on the telly. Still, at least it’s another 3pm kick off for me to savour, given we get so few these days. Anyway, I’m digressing from my original point, which was that I’m not expecting a classic FA Cup tie and I’m not anticipating that we’ll see Arsenal destroy Sunderland. It would be nice, but despite what Arsene said in his press conference yesterday, he doesn’t want the FA Cup at the expense of a proper go at the league, so he’ll field a team that will probably just have enough to get over the line. And do you know what? I’m fine with that.
It will most probably be Debuchy’s last game for the club, as Arsene confirmed he’s got the opportunity to move on somewhere to get games. I feel for the guy, I really do, but personally I’d be ruthless and tell him he won’t be sold because you know we’ll need him at some stage this season. Much like we all hoped Coquelin wouldn’t get injured and then he did, if Debuchy goes on loan somewhere, you just know Bellerin is getting injured. So keep the back up and make sure we go on and win the league rather than making sure a player gets the opportunity to play in the Euros in the summer. But we all know Arsene won’t do that, so it seems almost inevitable that this will be Debuchy’s last hurrah.
Because of the rotation in both teams, it’s difficult to predict tactically what Sunderland will do. Sam Allardyce probably doesn’t want a replay, but he’d probably take it as opposed to defeat, so I wonder if Sunderland will look to sit tight and frustrate Arsenal. If that does happen, then Walcott will need to be on his best form, because his pace will be negated and I don’t think there’ll be a Mesut Ozil to thread eye of a needle passes. It means one of the other players, those who are best in confined spaces, need to step up. I’m kind of looking at The Ox in that regard. He’s got the beating of the man if he’s got a bit of confidence, so for him, the first few exchanges in the first half will be crucial. Against Bournemouth I think he started a little sluggish and at times looked like he didn’t want the ball. But as the game wore on he got better and you could see his confidence helped him to up his game. That’s why today needs to start well for him. If it does, I could see this being the sort of game he could end up running, in the absence of those types of tricky players who can wriggle in between opposition defenders. Just look at the possible players today; Walcott, Ramsey, Campbell, Arteta. All decent players but they don’t beat people in confined spaces and nor do I believe they have it in their locker. I think the Ox does. But he needs to show it today.
He hasn’t managed to produce so far this season, but why not use today’s game, as his platform?