Howdy howdy folks, hope you’re all gravy on a Saturday, looking forward to the good ol’ FA Cup fixture tonight? I’m rather excited, I have to say, because Preston is a new ground for me and it’s also the first away FA Cup tie i think I’ve been too. I can’t really fully remember if I was taken to any as a small kid, and I’ve been to countless home ties, obviously, but this will be my first. And it’ll be one of those ‘old fashioned’ games, because it’s an old ground, a team in a division below, in the early evening on a Saturday. Hopefully it’ll be a good’un.

Whether or not I will be feeling the same come 8pm this evening of course still very much remains in the balance. For an Arsenal victory is far from assured today. The Preston fans will make sure that their players give an extra 10-20% because of the nature of the tie and our players will need to react better than the Sheffield Wednesday away game last season in the League Cup.

Of course at this point i’d like to say “the main difference is that we’ll have a first team playing against Preston, as opposed to rotated players”, but with the number of injuries and question marks over some of the players, I suspect the side will look far from that which was racking up so many points in September and October.

One of the ever consistent facts of Arsene Wenger teams is that it has normally been quite easy to pick who he’ll select for games. But this season he has changed things around with a view to rotation and I think today we will see more. He might have told us at his presser the other day that he’ll be playing 90% first team players, but these days there’s about 23 players who could be classed as first team, and half of them seem to be injured, so I reckon he’s definitely shuffling his pack.

Let’s start with the back five. Ospina will play – he’s already said that (the boss,  not Ospina – Arsene may give licence to his players to express themselves, but we’re not at the Darwinesque stage of survival of the strongest and loudest getting to choose when they start yet) – so that’s not really any news. At right back unless he’s calling Jenko in from the cold, harsh, outdoors to sit by the fire next to him, I think it’ll be Bellerin at right back. On the left Gibbs appears to still be injured and so Arsene’s hand is kind of forced there. I would have thought this was a game Gibbs would have played given Nacho played the last game, but his injury means the Spaniard gets to continue his run in the team.

The central defensive pairing is an interesting one. Again, like Cech, he’s said he’ll rest Koscielny, but with Mustafi returning from injury in the last game and looking a little rusty he could take one of two views: a) give him more time to recover so he’s fully ready for Swansea away in a week’s time, or b) play him back into fitness with more game time. Personally, I’d rest in favour of Gabriel and ~Holding. Holding has impressed when given the chance and now that both Kos and Shkodran are back, Gabriel is going to be spending some time on the bench, so it would be good for him to show that he’s not a scary liability at times after all.

Then we move to central midfield, in which Arsene has already admitted that we’re so light that jacky would be handy to have around right now, but the terms of his loan prevent it so that’s that out of the window. It’s a shame because he’d probably have got plenty of minutes already under his belt this season at Arsenal, but such is life, I suppose. So we’ll have to contend with a midfield in which the only real options that I can see are Ramsey and Xhaka. The good news about that is that both have hardly been overworked in terms of minutes this season, but the bad news is that Preston will be aggressive in the tackle and any kind of knock to any of those players really does bugger us up. If either went down today, we’re essentially looking at the Ox as our only other option in central midfield.

That’s scary eh? I mean, the fact we started the season with our central midfield as our most overstocked department, yet now we are down to the bare-bones. Such is the curse of Arsenal though.

In front of those two, we are all waiting anxiously to see if Lucas makes it, because he would be a great asset to have in the front three in the absence of Alexis. If I were to hazard a guess – which is kind of the point in a pre-match blog – I’d say we’ll have Iwobi in the Number 10 role (Ozil still coming back from injury and would therefore still be out), Giroud up top and flanked either side by The Ox and Lucas. Theo seems to still be out, otherwise, i’d expect him to start.

If that is the team, and Theo is out though, it will probably leave our bench looking rather youthful. But that’s where we’re at. Everyone seems ill, injured or unavailable for one reason or another, so we just have to deal with it. The only really good thing to see, if it happens, will be the place of Welbeck on the bench. I can’t see him starting today though.

As for Preston, I have no idea who their players are other than Aiden McGeady, so i’m sure he’ll be one of their main threats. If you want a tactical analysis, head over to the official site for the always excellent Michael Cox, who has provided a scouting report.

If, as Michael says, Preston are direct and play those long balls over the top, then perhaps somebody like Mustafi would be a better option. Sometimes Gabriel doesn’t exactly look the best in the air, where as I feel like the German always gives a good account of himself aerially, so we’ll have to see how Arsene sets his team up to counter Preston’s route one style of football. Hopefully Arsene reads the official site and the scouting reports!

Right, that’s it from me. Time to close the laptop down, go for a quick run, then get in the car for the journey north.

Laters peeps.