Matchday on a Monday is becoming a far more regular thing than I’d have liked it to have been, if I’m completely honest and with all of the other FA Cup round fixtures now having been played, we’ll be learning our fate before a ball is kicked. That is of course assuming we can get beyond high-flying Leeds this evening.
This will be a tough game, of that I am in no doubt, even if Marcelo Bielsa has already stated that he’ll make some rotational changes tonight as Leeds prepare for a return to the Premier League. I don’t really know the full one to eleven of Leeds United’s result players, so those rotated to come in I will be even less aware of tonight. But that doesn’t mean that Arsenal should underestimate them and certainly it means Arteta has to give plenty of thought to who should be starting this evening.
He can’t just go all out on playing the kids like Liverpool did yesterday because Leeds, like Liverpool, are top of their respective division and that means the general feel of positivity and confidence is running through the club. You could see that yesterday in the Merseyside Derby and unless we rock up with an attitude of more professionalism and belief than Everton did, it doesn’t matter if we’re at home, because they’ll do us over even with rotated players.
Leeds tends to go for a 4-1-4-1 formation with a defensive midfielder sitting in to protect the the centre halves, but they’ll also look to have as much possession as possible. That does intrigue me I have to say, because if Arteta does rotate then it will be interesting to see how many of the squad players follow his instructions as well as the first teamers did against United. If Leeds are a possession-based team and like to play short passes within their own half, then it gives us the opportunity to turn the ball up higher up the pitch, which might give us chances.
So I’m looking forward to seeing how the rotated Arsenal players get on tonight. And I do think that there will be plenty of rotation. I suspect we’ll see Martinez in goal, probably Mustafi and one of Mavropanos/Holding (if fit), then maybe Saka gets a run out given Kolasinac is back and the kid only played 20 minutes last Wednesday. It should mean he’s fresh enough and if it rests Kolasinac and gives him more time to be ready for Palace away next weekend, then it makes perfect sense to me, so I think we’ll see that change.
In front of them it’ll be Xhaka and Torreira our I think, and I’d go with Willock and Guendouzi, because both need to prove themselves. Especially the Frenchman, because he hasn’t seen much game time over Christmas and now that he has spent time out, it’ll hopefully drive him to execute more positional discipline within Arteta’s system.
In front of them in the three I’d be looking at Martinelli, Smith-Rowe and Pepe. Martinelli has missed a few games but looks to be back in training, Smith-Rowe needs a bit more game time and I think the same can be said for Pepe, who did well for 60 minutes but was hooked against United as I think his intensity dropped. So I would be starting our £72million man because he needs more games under Arteta and this would also give us more opportunity to give him that.
In front of them is an interesting one. Auba and Laca are both fit but I wouldn’t be starting the Gabonese. We need him rested and ready to fire in other games this season and he played all of the Christmas fixtures, so I’d be surprised if he was risked. But Lacazette too run his guts out against United so I’d be loathed to play him again tonight. Perhaps that means a start for Nketiah and personally I’d love to see that. Lining up against teammates who one week ago he was playing with would be weird for him, but might also give an added bit of impetus for the player. Think Danny Welbeck at Old Trafford in the FA Cup a few seasons ago.
It would also help to keep our other strikers fit so works for me. Of course Martinelli up top could be an option but personally I just feel Nketiah would have a little more ‘magic of the cup’ about it. Especially given that the reason he is back with us is because Bielsa just didn’t play him enough and that will have stung the lad I reckon.
It’ll be a cold one this evening, one in which there will be opportunities for both teams and the increased allocation for Leeds will mean they’ll be a little more noisier than usual, but this is Arteta’s Arsenal and we have to see the same intensity we’ve seen for the first three games. If we get that then certainly we’ll fancy ourselves to be in the bag of balls for the next round. We’ve got pedigree in this competition. We’ve won it more than anyone else and so my hope is that tonight we do enough to keep hope alive in a competition outside of the Premier League.
Up the Arsenal.