Arsenal travel to Elland Road for only the third FA Cup Third Round Replay during Arsene’s time in charge at the club. Both previous occasions have seen Arsenal prevail away from home against a team from the division below, Sunderland in 1996/97 and Port Vale, a season later. Which is an altogether more cheerier stat than reminder everyone that on this day in 2000, Arsenal exited the FA Cup following defeat at Leicester on penalties in a fourth round replay.
But not quite as cheery as reminding Leeds United that they have never beaten Arsenal in an FA Cup tie played outside of London. This is the sixth time they have tried, Arsenal have prevailed on three on previous five occasions, the remaining two have been draws. That cannot happen tonight, the tie resolved by penalties if necessary.
Personally, I find replays anachronistic. The Carling Cup has moved to resolving matches on the day, the FA Cup should go the same way. There has been talk that the competition will be moved to midweek, similar to many on continental Europe. The TV companies may rattle on about the glory of the FA Cup but it has been relegated to third place in the trophy target list of those clubs which qualify for the Champions League. Not that it is unimportant, simply diminished by the money on offer elsewhere.
Arsene is unhappy because he cannot find a centre back, or as he put it, “I cannot tell you [about the type of player] at the moment because it has to click in my head and nothing has happened yet“. Goodness knows why he cannot find one, he gets enough advice on a daily basis as to whom he should buy. Arsene, you need to read all of the scouts out in blogland, they have an eye for a bargain or two.
His problem is exacerbated by Squillaci’s injury – is his a rolling two-week absence? – which is going to necessitate a rest for Johan Djourou, Wenger admitted that the Swiss has played more than was intended at the start of the season. Tonight is likely to see Ignasi Miquel make his debut for the first team as a result.
Elsewhere, Denilson’s comments prior to the original meeting with Leeds have been regurgitated by The Sun, who it seems cannot be arsed to fix up an interview with the player himself, instead thieving content from Arseblog and Arsenal Brasil.
There is an element of truth in that Cesc tends to lead by example on the pitch, rather than being a vocal performer in the mould of Adams or McLintock. It however, also highlights Denilson’s own immaturity in needing a leader, a disappointing trait in one who has played as many first team games as he has.
Back to this evening. Earlier this week Arsene spoke of the need to rotate and he can do so with most of the squad fit. He noted, however, that not so many changes would be made as the first tie, pointing out the underperformance of many in that encounter. No doubt a few will be given the chance to put right those wrongs.
With Miquel likely to start in defence, it is entirely possible that only Koscielny will retain his place from the weekend. Sagna would offer the young Spaniard a more experienced head to guide Miquel through his debut. Gibbs on the left would complete three changes in defence.
Who is Arsene kidding? Looking at the team on Saturday, a strong case could be made for nine changes although Arsene is likely to resist that many with Wilshere retaining his place alongside Denilson and Rosicky. Up front, I would personally use Walcott and Arshavin with Chamakh leading the line. Wenger is likely to persevere with Bendtner on the right.
Arsene’s line-up is probably,
Szczesny; Sagna, Miquel, Koscielny, Gibbs; Rosicky, Denilson, Wilshere; Bendtner, Chamakh, Arshavin
Personally, I would take Denilson out and leave Song in, Walcott replacing Bendtner on the right with a case for Fabregas starting rather than Rosicky. The bench is likely to give Wenger his options, no surprise if it includes Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie and Song just in case things are going awry.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.