It’s an ‘FA Cup third round and we’re in it’ post today. Arsenal face Preston in what is now a trickier tie than it seemed when the draw was made. Many consider this to be a genuine chance of an upset which is somewhat surprising.
Arsène has made no secret that we are travelling to the north-west with a depleted squad. It’s no different to the last time we visited Deepdale in the FA Cup in 1999 when we fielded a genuinely much-weakened XI:
Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Bould, Vivas; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Mendez; Boa Morte, Overmars
with subs used, Caballero and Garde. Those were the days when we didn’t have much depth to the squad once you got past the first XI.
That we won 4 – 2 at Deepdale is in the record books. That we were losing 2 – 0 until a minute before half-time and pulled level after the home side was reduced to ten men, is often forgotten.
As with then, the XI left behind in north London is considerably stronger than the one which will take the field but not by much. Any side will miss Alexis, Laurent Koscielny and (probably) Mesut Özil. Even so, we have enough quality now to deal with those absences in this match. A Premier League team in the top half of the table would probably contain us and the top six would beat us. Lower than that, I quite fancy our chances so a mid-table Championship side? We can win this.
I’ve been around the FA Cup block to know saying “we will win this” is a step too far but that doesn’t mean I’m any less confident of winning.
Of course, injuries always give us the benefit of hindsight when it comes to decisions made five months ago.
Arsène observed that Jack Wilshere’s loan move to Bournemouth has a downside for today:
“Yes, I could use Wilshere now.
“What looks unfair at some moment in the season is that you know at some stage you could need the player.
“But even at the start you need to have the right balance between competition and numbers and chances for the player to play.
“And still today I think it was the right decision for him to go.”
Whether he’ll feel the same at 7.30pm tonight is another matter.
Yes, we could do with Jack tonight but how many opportunities would he have been given, even with Santi’s injuries? And let’s face it, if he’d stayed at Arsenal, there’s no doubt he’d be injured himself by now.
Many of the changes were expected but as Arsène said, Preston can expect to face a strong XI. Ospina for Cech, in current form, is probably a seamless switch.
The back four is the real question mark in the team. Wenger has options and I suspect the fitness of two key players will decide the issue. Kieran Gibbs injury means Nacho plays while I expect Rob Holding to come in for Koscielny. Which leaves the question of Mustafi and Bellerin. If Mustafi is fit – and after a hamstring problem, that can be hit and miss – Bellerin maybe rested with Gabriel shifting to full back.
If the German is deemed too much of a risk, Bellerin plays with Maitland-Niles coming on as a late substitute. I just can’t see Wenger fielding a side with two inexperienced defenders, even with Preston’s own hit-and-miss home form.
The rest of the team picks itself. Ramsey and Xhaka get the chance to prove their critics wrong while hopefully, Arsène will play the right-footed Ox on the right and the left-footed Lucas Perez on the left. Alex Iwobi as Number 10 gives him the chance to prove his CAF Young Player of the Year award was no fluke.
Preston face Oli’s wrath
Despite his wondrous goal against Palace and the equaliser against Bournemouth, Olivier Giroud is still dividing opinions. It’s often a good thing with the Frenchman; when his back is against the wall, he can produce some of his best football. Preston won’t fancy containing an in-form Giroud which is why I favour putting Perez and Ox on their natural flanks, giving genuine width.
We’re good enough to win this cup tie, there’s no doubt about that. It’s the club’s last chance of silverware this season so the player’s motivation cannot be open to question, surely? Nor the manager’s. Arsenal are favourites to win and rightly so. Come the final whistle, if we aren’t in the draw for the fourth round, there’s something seriously wrong at the club.
Times of our Lives has reached 1987. The third round trip to Reading was a memorable day for many reasons, none of which are repeatable on a family orientated blog. We won 3 – 1 so it’s an omen I suppose…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.