It’s another Monday match day for us and it’s another silver trinket that we’re fighting for at the end of the road, as we take the trip to Fratyon Park to face a Portsmouth side who will be no mugs tonight I’m sure.
Portsmouth may be a couple of divisions down from us in League One, but much like Olympiakos, they are used to winning and have won their last two games scoring three goals each time as a result. So they will go into tonight’s game full of confidence, excited at facing a decent Premier League outfit, with nothing expected of them or needing to prove, which in my mind makes them a dangerous outfit.
So my biggest hope for this evening’s FA Cup fifth round game is that we don’t get the same level of unprofessionalism we got against Olympiakos; by that I mean a team that completely underestimated its opponents and starts off tentative and ponderous. Portsmouth are probably not the same quality as Olympiakos but they will certainly make sure that we are punished if we do approach the game in the same way.
Whether that means a Arteta should play the closest he’s got to his first team remains to be seen. I could understand it if he did, but there were so many lacklustre performances out there on Thursday night, that I’d be tempted to do a bit of rotation anyway. So for me I’d have Martinez in goal, I’d play Maitland-Niles in at right back and if he’s fit I’d chuck Tierney in at left back. Let’s also see Holding and Mari in defence and see what the Spaniard can do in his debut appearance.
In front of them I’d have Torreira as the steel in our defence and although I’m a big fan of Xhaka, I’d pull him out too and give an opportunity to see somebody else alongside the Uruguayan. Maybe Guendouzi could have something to prove? He played well in the last round away to Bournemouth and so perhaps that could be in Arteta’s thinking too?
In front of them I’d play Willock and again I’d be looking at him replicating that Bournemouth FA Cup performance where his energy was good in both directions; he tracked back and won a few tackles higher up the pitch when the ball was lost in transition a few times I seem to remember, plus his delivery and passing range was better in that game. So I think we should give him a try and see what he can do.
Then you’ve got the front three and for that I’d have Martinelli wide left, Pepe wide right and Nketiah up top. A good performance and a goal from Eddie tonight really will create question marks over whether he should start playing instead of Lacazette and with the Frenchman so woefully out of form at the moment, I’d be ok with that right now. But what we need to see from Eddie is more end product and that’s why, if he starts tonight, he’s got to be on the scoring sheet. Our goals have tended to come from those players playing wide left but if Nketiah can be chipping in with a fair few for the remainder of this season then it’s an added bonus I personally would be more than happy with.
Portsmouth look like they tend to line up in a 4-2-3-1, so similar to us, with an emphasis on getting the ball wide to pacey wing men. I think they also try to press their League One opponents quite high up the pitch so it will be interesting to see if they can replicate that approach tonight against us. At times we’ve seen teams do it and force our players into errors, but if they press too high as a unit then it could lead to a lot of green grass to run into on the counter and so I’m not sure they’ll do that.
Perhaps they’ll adopt a similar style to when we played Burnley away, who used their forward line to press high, but dropped their defence deep to avoid the counter. It basically gave us the freedom of the midfield but without any incisive passing on the day we ended up being pretty blunted it has to be said. We don’t seem to have those players who can split defences with their passes – Özil certainly doesn’t do it any more – so that could be a tactic that frustrates us tonight.
Perhaps for Arteta the way forward is to play the likes of Luiz and Ceballos though. Of all of the passers we have in our team those two are more likely to look for that kind of defence-splitting pass but whilst the Spaniard hasn’t played that many games so should be good to go, Luiz has played a lot of football and been relied on so it wouldn’t be unthinkable to give him a rest tonight I think.
Arteta’s also got to – at some stage – give Mari a chance to impress and so I wonder if that’ll mean he gets a shot tonight. He’s supposed to be quite good on the ball and playing out from the back so we might as well have a look at him.
It’ll be a tough one tonight and I’m not expecting an Arsenal team to steamroll Portsmouth on their own turf. But with the players we have and the need to bounce back from the ignominy of defeat against Olympiakos just four days ago, I am hoping the Arsenal players tonight have an extra incentive to prove that the season is not dead, just yet.
Come on you reds.