Arsenal travel to Brisbane Road this afternoon not having lost to Leyton Orient in nearly a century. If that 96 year run continues, it will be no surprise with the whole club bouyed by the midweek victory over Barcelona.
It is crucial that the players do not believe that stepping onto the turf is enough this afternoon. They had enough warnings against Leeds and to a lesser extent, Huddersfield, to know that is not enough. Orient have been beaten once in twenty games so have belief in themselves which makes Brisbane Road a trickier place to visit than perhaps it normally would be.
Even so, a much changed Arsenal side should win this tie. It would be a surprise if many from Wednesday started this afternoon. With Stoke visiting The Emirates next week, this is the opportunity for Arsène to completely rotate the squad.
Indeed, those such as Djourou and Fàbregas could probably do with a complete rest, omitted from the bench as well. That won’t happen; Wenger has proven this term that the first XI might be rotated but only down to the bench in a number of cases, just in case things don’t go to plan.
Or if the going gets a bit tough. One thing that can be expected is that Orient will not try to outpass Arsenal. That, as they admit, is going to result in a thrashing. Instead, Stephen Dawson has offered the previously unheard of thought that Arsenal ‘don’t like it up ’em’. It truly is an astonishing insight.
It gets better as Dawson believes the Arsenal players will be so preoccupied with Birmingham and Barcelona that they will opt out of 50:50 challenges. A shame Dawson cannot read as he might have worked out that few of the players involved in those two games will be playing today.
There are some question marks about the midfield. I cannot believe that Nasri is fit enough to start and with such a busy time upcoming, a hamstring injury requires a rest, precluding him from being on the bench. It means that Rosicky will probably start with Fàbregas held in reserve.
Talking of which, Miquel would have benefitted from a cup tie or two earlier in the season which would have given him the opportunity to play, resting Koscielny. The Frenchman will probably start given Djourou’s injury scare post-Barcelona but will no doubt be grateful for a rest in coming weeks.
The team I expect Wenger to go with:
Almunia; Eboué, Kosicelny, Squillaci, Gibbs; Rosický, Denilson, Wilshere; Bendtner, Chamakh, Arshavin
Personally, I would slot Sagna into the centre and rest Koscileny but that is not a path Wenger will follow.
Question marks about the squad are nothing new yet whatever the circumstances, the players have pulled through for the manager in this competition. None of the half a dozen clubs which has ended Arsenal’s interest in the FA Cup during Wenger’s reign has come from outside of the Premier League. Only Cardiff have even got a replay out of him, such is Wenger’s parsimony.
One man who won’t mind being rotated today is Wojciech Szczesny. Well, he might do but then knowing he will be back in goal on Wednesday night softens the blow somewhat. For deputy Manuel Almunia, it is a turnaround he would not have considered following the closure of the September transfer window and the non-arrival of Mark Schwarzer.
Szczesny has shown all of the right attributes so far in his short time as Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper. He is not without making mistakes but his judgement is right more often than it is wrong, and he has a little luck on his side. The Pole might have taken Gary Player’s maxim to heart and is not leaving anything to chance,
If I am given the chance to stay the No 1 I would be very happy to [continue]. There is very good competition at the Club so I can’t say there is no threat. I know that I have to be at my very best because if there is any slip up or drop in my performance, other goalkeepers will be happy to take my place.
I can’t demand playing time at a Club like this being 20-year-old. I know that when my chance came I had to take it with both hands and try to take the No 1 spot.
His emergence highlights a bizarre goalkeeping season for Arsenal. Almunia had been more consistent than in previous seasons and was injured for a lengthy spell. Fabianski replaced him, performed better than was expected before being injured for a lengthy spell. Szczesny stepped up to the plate and has not disappointed.
Whether or not he is the long-term solution remains to be seen. His performance on Wednesday suggests that he might be. It was a continuation of those matches before but it is still too early to say for certain that he will be first choice next season. If, however, he is a member of a trophy winning side, it will surely be impossible for Wenger to drop him for the start of the next campaign?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.