It’s a little bit of a later one from me today, on account of a host of jobs i’ve had to do, but just before I pop out for a run I thought I’d pen some musings because it is FA Cup third round day and we’ve got ourselves a 5.30pm kick off on BBC over here in the UK so that feels extra exciting for some reason.
I love the third round of the FA Cup. There’s just something about it. Whether that’s because there are essentially tonnes of games on to watch and digest, or whether it’s the start of a potential dream that we as Arsenal fans are particularly excited about: winning the competition again.
We are the defenders of this particular shiny silver trinket and it is Newcastle at home that we have to successfully navigate if we’re to get through to the next round. We could have done with an easier opponent and whilst the scummy lot round the corner get what is tantamount to a buy through to the next round (they’re getting good at easy passages through cup competitions this season, aren’t they?), we have Premir League opposition to consider. That will, I think, make it difficult for Arteta to fully rotate the team tonight and so whilst I think he will tinker i’m not sure he’ll go full rotation on all 11 places.
For example, I think I speak for every Arsenal fan when I say that we could do with Leno in goal, because the thought of Runarsson palming one of Jonjo Shelvey’s crosses into his own goal hardly fills me with glee. I suspect it will be Leno in goal, but then I think the back four will have a bit of rotation to it. Does Arteta go with Cedric on the right and Ainsley on the left? That’s what I’d be tempted to do, then play Mari and Luiz in the middle of the defence. Save Gabriel and Holding – even though I acknowledge I am not his biggest fan he is first choice and so needs to be rested for the Palace game on Thursday – for the Premier League and give more minutes to those two.
In front of them the temptation might be to play Partey but I’d give Ceballos and possibly Xhaka a run out today. I personally think we should still be using Xhaka alongside Partey for the Palace game, but Ceballos and Elneny just doesn’t work and Xhaka is the guy who has more minutes under his belt and has found a wee bit of form in the last few wins. It also keeps that first XI continuity too.
In front of them we’ll see a three, but what three Arteta chooses will be a mystery, because he could go strong or he could rotate across the board. I hope he gives Pepe a run out because he needs it and hasn’t started for a while, but also it would be valuable for us if he can get some minutes under his belt and hopefully make a valuable contribution today. Pepe is a confidence player and we need him to start building a bit of that. On the other flank I think he might go for Martinelli and save Auba for Crystal Palace and I think that might be a good idea. If you’re going to give Martinelli two games in nine days you want them as far apart as possible and so today and then the home game against Newcastle Monday week should be earmarked for the Brazillian.
But who is the connector in this team? Does Arteta go with Smith-Rowe and then see if he can make it through and play again on Thursday? Or does he give Willian a shot at doing it? The guy hasn’t really ever played 10 his whole career so I’m not sure it would work now, so perhaps he plays Ceballos there and then drops in Elneny alongside Xhaka? Either way without Smith-Rowe it doesn’t really feel like we have any decent options and that’s why we’re so desperately looking for a player in this January window. If the club were on the verge of signing somebody I’d say play Smith-Rowe but it doesn’t feel like anything is on the cards so I wouldn’t want to risk him too much today.
We also have to take the opposition into account and whilst Steve Bruce said they would give both the competition and Arsenal the respect we deserve, he also admitted that he would be rotating players for this game. So I think we’re likely to see a rotated Newcastle team as well. If that is the case then maybe Arteta can experiment a little with a different option like Ceballos?
That just leaves the top spot and for me I’d be tempted to give Balogun a go. Show him that there is a pathway, that if he commits himself now, he will get more game time. I suspect he will be on the bench at least but my gut feel says it will more likely be Nketiah than Balogun. Hey, if Balogun is basically gone – as I suspect he is to be honest with you – then fine, play Eddie, but if there’s a chance that a start tonight gives him the belief he can stay at The Arsenal and make a name for himself, then let’s roll the dice and give him a go.
I don’t really know how I feel about tonight’s game. In my head i’m not 100% confident of a victory because of what has happened with this team this season. A month ago it felt like we’d never win a football match again. But the confidence has returned with the three wins so I guess I’m feeling ‘cautious optimsim’ over how the game might unfold.
Let’s hope we do a good job of defending our title tonight.
Catch you guys tomorrow.