Did some family stuff this weekend, so whilst I managed to catch a little bit of football and did a little bit of reading, it was fairly minimal, knowing that our game was this evening. I didn’t even realise that the draw had already taken place as I drove home with The Management last night. As she read out that Tottenham had a home game against Milwall I rolled my eyes. “So which one of United of City have we got if we get through?” Came my exhasperated response. And who did Chelski get in their annual bye through to the semis?”. “Lincoln at home for Arsenal. United go to Chelsea. So you can shelve your conspiracy theories” came the response.
But what isn’t fair enough, is that I was already counting my chickens, before some had even laid to roost. Which is exactly the kind of mentality the players need to avoid against Sutton tonight. Because that’s the kind of thinking that’ll get us spiralling out of the cup in the worst defeat in the club’s history.
I’ve seen Wrexham beat Arsenal in 92. I got the VHS of that season and back then it was the only Arsenal video I had, so whilst watching the other 40+ games helped to water down that result when I was a kid, I still had to fast forward that particular part.
What’s different about this time is that Sutton are a non-league team, but thankfully there’s no stereotypical boggy pitch that the players need to contend with. That means the players will be able to keep the ball on the deck and hopefully make the most of their passing ability.
Which players get the nod, however, remains to be seen. Any player with any kind of dodgy injury record needs to probably sit this one out. Welbeck played for the under-23s because of his immediate history, but the last thing we need is a mass breakdown of some players or star players, so I’m hoping that Alexis, Özil, Theo, Koscielny and the Ox are all given time off. The first two are our marquee players and if something happens to them on that pitch then we really are Donald Ducked for the season. You can argue about Mesut’s impact, but I’ll go all cliched on you and say ‘form temporary, class permanent’ in response. I think Özil will regain his impact on our game so I don’t really want to see him going down with something dodgy tonight. As for the other three, I’m not sure Kos would have played anyway, whilst Theo and the Ox have had chequered recent histories with injury, so I don’t think we should risk it.
That means my preferred line up would include Ospina in goal, Hector at right back, Musafi and Holding in the heart of it (although I think Arsène will opt for his usual hierarchical stance of Gabriel ahead of Holding) and probably Monreal at left back. If Gibbs has usurped him as first choice full back, then Nacho needs to play, having missed the last couple of games.
In midfield I’d go with Xhaka and Elneny. Elneny is better in possession than Coquelin and I think we’ll have most of the ball this evening, so having a player with a better eye for a pass would of course be preferable. Let’s also not forget that Coquelin’s last couple of games have – in my opinion – been stinkers against Hull and Bayern. So he probably needs a time out.
Iwobi’s also been poor of late, but he’s shown he can do more damage when he comes in centrally, so if we have him in at number 10, with Lucas and Jeff Reine-Adelaide either side of Giroud, it would certainly be a team senior enough to show Sutton that we’re serious about this competition. I think that side should be good enough for a strong win too, if they’ve got their heads screwed on, that is.
How Sutton will line up is a bit beyond me I’m afraid. I know the players that will play, a few of which were at Arsenal as youth products (Roarie Deacon, Craig Eastmond, Jack Jebb, etc), but in terms of a tactical breakdown I’m not too sure. I’m certainly not expecting a high press from Sutton, so I’d imagine they’re looking at defensive shape, perhaps catching Arsenal on the counter or taking advantage of our shabby defence on set pieces. They’ll know that they are massively underdogs and they’ll have to play out of their skins to get something against even a mentally battered Arsenal team, but as a fan who’s seen his team underperform all season (bar a couple of results), I’m not putting anything past this Arsenal team. Or this Sutton team for that matter.
Arsenal simply have to win. I’ve seen some people talk about big scorelines to restore some pride, but for some people that won’t be enough against a non-league team, so for me I don’t care. I just don’t want to see us sink any lower by defeat. Even a draw – whilst giving us the opportunity to finish off at the Emirates would be great – would still represent a poor result. But at least it’s preferable to the unthinkable. Being dumped out.
So the players need to be professional, put the effort in and stretch the Sutton players this evening, because they will leave gaps for us to exploit. We just need to hope the Arsenal players do so.
Catch you tomorrow. Hopefully we’re able to talk about Lincoln in the next round.