It’s another matchday, another FA Cup round, another early kick off and another game against Hull City.
Anything feel a bit, y’know, familiar to you?
Perhaps it’s a good omen. After all, in the last two years, when we’ve beaten Hull City in the cup, we’ve 100% guaranteed ourselves a trophy. So a win today and they might as well ship the big-eared jug over to us for another year, right?
Of course we know it doesn’t work like that, but it’s hard not to feel an air of familiarity about this game and it’s familiar feelings that have been very nice ones in the last couple of seasons, so why shouldn’t we have an element of excitement about resuming hostilities with the Tigers?
Steve Bruce certainly won’t. He’s already been complaining about his own fixture list congestion (Hull play three times in seven days, starting with us) and so has already suggested that there will be rotation because, quite frankly, he hasn’t got the squad to be able to go full-throttle in each game. Hull are riding high in the Championship and are currently top, two points clear of Middlesbrough and three clear of Brighton. But with Sheffield Wednesday on the horizon, as well as Ipswich away on Tuesday night, will he rotate his entire team? That’s what he’s said, but I’m not convinced, actually. Sean Dyche suggested he’d do the same in the last round when we played Burnley on home soil, yet when the sides were announced it was practically a first team that trotted out to the Emirates pitch. I wonder if Bruce will do the same today with us. He’d love to make it ‘third time a charm’ and if he rotates players for Tuesday instead of today, he could play a stronger team against Arsenal and Wednesday and rotate against the Tractor Boys.
It’s a a game of psychology though, because Bruce won’t want to play a full strength team today, then find out that Arsene has done the same, with an increased potential of Hull therefore being knocked out, so having nothing to show from playing his first team players who would then be tired for two crucial games in the league. From Bruce’s perspective it would have been nice to see Arsene’s hand before he played his own. If Arsene admits that he would rotate the whole squad, then Bruce might see an opportunity to catch Arsenal out, but if he plays a full-strength side today – which he has intimated in his press conference – then if I was in Bruce’s position I wonder if I’d consider rotating his whole team to ensure they are fresh for Ipswich and Wednesday.
That’s obviously part of why Arsene said he will name a full strength squad, but I do think he’ll get a blend of rotation in there. In will come Ospina, Chambers, Gibbs (if fit), Elneny, Iwobi, Campbell and Welbeck I expect, but it wouldn’t surprise me to also see Walcott play. Personally I’d give the ox the option on the right and see how Danny reacts to starting his first game in almost a year. The Ox has been playing himself in to a bit of form of late, so why disrupt that by not playing him today? He’s not played every minute of this season and so I think he’d be perfectly capable of playing today, then against Barca and possibly United on Sunday if called upon, so i’d ask him to continue to build his confidence and momentum by playing today.
The real question mark will be over who plays at full back and whether Coquelin should start, given his lack of games in recent months. Although the same could probably be argued of Alexis. His form has been patchy since returning from injury, so why not give him 60 minutes to see if he can start to build his momentum, much like The Ox? Coquelin is a more tricky one to decide, because we have no real other options in replacement other than Flamini and we’ve seen how that doesn’t really work as a longer term solution. I’ve also heard some mutterings about giving Hector a rest and possibly playing Flamini as a full back, but I’m not sure that’s an option in Arsene’s eyes any more, either. That version of Flamini has long-since departed. That Flamini was all-action, all-running and could get up and down a touchline all day if needed. This current incarnation we have just won’t do that, which means whoever plays at right wing won’t get an oveerlapping playing to feed like they do when Bellerin plays. Plus, let’s not forget that Bellerin is very fit and is only 20, so I think he too can handle three games in eight games. Regardless of the opponent.
We know enough about Hull to know what they’ll do today. Last season we came mightily close to a defeat after Danny Welbeck scored an injury time goal (he’s good at those, don’t you know?) to spare our blushes. I remember that game because it was classic modern-day Arsenal; all of the possession, all of the chances and hit with two sucker-punches to put the away side in front. Hull will look for more of the same again. They’ll want to see if a goalscoring Hernandez can do the job like he did last season against us and will try to feed him with balls in to the box. Otherwise, they’ll sit deep and look to soak up pressure, which is probably why I wouldn’t be starting Theo today. He won’t get many chances in behind and in general, Welbeck impacts the build up play more than Walcott, so for me it’s worth starting with our recent returnee.
Alternatively, they could completely mix it up and not play any of the above players, so my attempt at sussing out today’s opponents could be rendered completely useless within a matter of hours!
Anyway, it’s a cup weekend, a chance to continue our defence of the title and I hope we can all enjoy it. Except those in gold. Or orange. Or whatever colour they choose to call that kit.
Up the Arsenal!