Feb 15th, 2014 by 'holic
FA Cup fifth round, and for the second weekend running we find ourselves up against Liverpool, so impressive in the opening half of last week’s 5-1 drubbing at Anfield.
Anybody who listened to this week’s Arsecast will have heard there is a degree of rotation possible for this match that might not necessarily weaken a side struggling for that bit of confidence we so recently had in abundance. Let me clarify by saying I think all were in agreement that we should field our strongest team, but that will have changed in the last week based on performances and apparent weaknesses in the side.
So, for example, there was little enthusiasm for playing Lukas Fabianski as the ‘cup goalkeeper’ or bringing Carl Jenkinson in if Bacary Sagna is fit, and he is. However, the lack of genuine pace in attacking areas suggests that including Serge Gnabry might not be a bad thing. Up front there was debate about Olivier Giroud. I remain of the opinion that he is still the best in the League with his back to goal, but with goals from midfield drying up he is being put under pressure to return to the goalscoring form he showed in early season.
At what has become the infamous ‘fear of failure’ presser on Friday Arsene suggested that Santi Cazorla would not be able to play as he was ill, but the little Spaniard trained today (Saturday) so we shall see. Normally Lukas Podolski would slot in on the left hand side but the fact he has been largely overlooked since returning from injury suggests there is something going on of which we are not aware.
The other key selection will be in the playmaker role. If Gnabry, or possibly Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are brought in to add pace then It would make sense to retain Mesut Ozil, capable of picking out forward runners at will earlier in the season. There may be some temptation for the boss to rest him ahead of Bayern. I thought him one of the few bright spots against Manchester United, but there is no doubt he struggled as much as anybody against these same opponents a week ago. Tomas Rosicky or Jack Wilshere could fill the role just for this match.
So one possible line-up, and yes it is pure guesswork and probably way off track, would see Fabianski in goal (I think he will be, not that I would pick him) behind the best back four we have of Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Kieran Gibbs (Nacho Monreal may get the nod here). I expect a midfield axis of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, back after suspension. The three in front of them could be Gnabry or the Ox on the right, Rosicky or Wilshere in the hole, and Podolski on the left. Up top, whisper it, I think we may see Nicklas Bendtner.
The visitors arrive having been rightly lauded for their performance against us last week, but they were far from convincing in beating Fulham on Wednesday night, and of course on their last visit to the Grove we defeated them 2-0 at the start of November when the midfield was in a rich vein of form. One significant returnee could be Daniel Agger, back after a calf injury. That can only improve them defensively, but as Fulham showed they are far from watertight.
The ‘holic pound is punted in the hope, rather than the expectation, of us finding some semblance of confidence and cohesion. For the second weekend running I’ll tip us to win 2-1. Last week’s twelves are no longer available but one High Street bookie is offering 10/1 and I am on at that price. Another has us at 7/4 just to win. That is a big price and reflects how far down in the bookies estimation we have fallen.
I hope the need to get off to a fast start tomorrow is drilled into the side. The home crowd will get behind them on a big cup day, and will remain so as long as the sort of lapses that crept in last Saturday are not repeated. Confident? Why not? The pressure of the League situation can be put to one side for a day. We are capable of responding.
In the words of a Nike advertising clone, just do it.