The overtime in the Premier League Treasury department is certainly being racked up. Still counting the money from the new domestic TV rights deal, eyebrows were raised when it was announced that they would soon be receiving another £180m from the naming rights of top-flight football. I have no idea what the money will be spent on but have a useful suggestion.
The bloated FA Cup weekend continues with Middlesbrough arriving at The Emirates with a desperate desire to replicate their success at The Etihad in the last round. They will face an Arsenal side with a few but not too many changes from midweek.
It’s the performance which Arsène will be looking at, as much as the result. The confidence won during the five-match unbeaten run at the start of the year was quickly lost in the tepid outing at White Hart Lane. There was little evidence of it returning during the win over Leicester; indeed, Arsenal can count themselves fortunate to have won the match.
But win they did and no doubt that helped put a bit of a spring in steps which would otherwise have felt heavy following the defeat to Tottenham. The FA Cup is providing the filip the season needs once more, the Premier League campaign remains firmly entrenched in the battle for fourth, one that nobody really seems to want to win. Or be capable of winning, more accurately.
The changes to this afternoon’s XI will largely be expected. We’ll see Gabriel’s début although alongside whom depends on the state of Laurent Koscielny’s shoulder. The French international is expected to be the new boy’s guiding light with Per Mertesacker given a much-needed rest.
It’s a tricky decision for Arsène. Whilst the back four needs to be shuffled to protect the players and the replacements are all good players, he needs some continuity. With Wojciech Szczesny returning in goal, that is two changes already. The third will be Kieran Gibbs replacing Nacho Monreal on the left.
Midfield is largely a case of if you’re fit, you’re playing. Tomas Rosicky will partner Francis Coquelin with Arteta and Oxlade-Chamberlain absent. A lot of focus is on the return of Jack Wilshere but after two months out, a week in training seems a short time to regain fitness and most likely, leaves the England international exposed to the twangs and knacks which have besieged the squad this season.
The reality is that a place on the bench beckons but it’s ironic in an Alanis Morissette kind of way that when he comes into the side, it will be into a similar role he is asked to play for his country. The very one that Arsène believed earlier in the season, didn’t bring the best out of Wilshere.
Tuesday’s failed experiment of a false 9, 10 or whatever you want to describe it as, will surely not be repeated. The Arsenal attack was blunted in the absence of Giroud or Welbeck with possession ceded too readily in the final third. Walcott has the pace but the squad missed a target man. Not that it was that effective at White Hart Lane when one was on the pitch.
It means the line-up will be something like,
Were this a Premier League fixture, I suspect Arsène would risk Alexis Sanchez in the starting line-up but it isn’t and whilst the back four has an FA Cup XI feel to it, the rest of the line-up is pretty much made up of those who are fit. Only Flamini could really make a difference to the midfield, certainly with any expectation of lasting the full ninety minutes. And most people prefer the younger Frenchman in the starting XI.
It won’t be a straightforward rout. Middlesbrough come into the game having won six on the trot, conceding just three goals in the last nine. It’s relative of course, the Championship doesn’t provide the level of opposition in the Premier League and I would expect Arsenal to show the same return against the likes of Huddersfield, Cardiff, Brentford and Blackpool.
Nonetheless, the Teesiders should not be underestimated as Manchester City proved but a focussed Arsenal should win and take their place in the last eight.
From The Vaults
On this day in 1930, Arsenal travelled to Ayresome Park for a match in that season’s FA Cup, the fifth round providing the occasion. Middlesbrough were ninth in Division One at the time, Arsenal seven places lower having already lost a dozen games in the season already.
‘Boro probably took confidence from their 2 – 1 win at Highbury and indeed this victory was Arsenal’s only one of the three between the two sides that season. 42,073 hardy souls watched the game, generating £3,100 in gate receipts on the day (roughly £1m in today’s money), witnessing Arsenal take another step along the Road To Wembley, one that ended with the club lifting the FA Cup for the first time in its history.
A repeat of this today would be most welcome. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.