Arsenal and Leeds United become the last 2 teams to play their 3rd Round match of the FA Cup as they take on each other tonight at the Grove. There was no giant-killing acts in this round as what the romance of this competition usually alludes to. With the exception of Wigan, all other Premier League sides survived to fight another day. Bolton and QPR needs to confront their respective replays to advance while Manchester derby was an all Premier League affair.
Tonight’s match is a repeat of last season’s encounter in the same stage of the competition. We needed a replay to advance in the last meeting and we could do without a repeat of that. Leeds are in patchy form despite sitting in 8th position in the Championship, well within reach of at least the play-offs. Last weekend’s win against Burnley was their first in 5 matches. They’ve won away games in the Championship, so it’s not to say they are a team that predominantly struggle on the road.
Simon Grayson’s are a decent side as we saw from our matches last season. Ross McCormack leads their goal scoring charts in the Championship with 11 goals, followed closely by Robert Snodgrass with 8 goals. Incidentally, Snodgrass is also the leading assist maker for Leeds with 9 for numbers exclusively in the second tier of English league football. From here, it is fairly obvious who the dangermen are for the once Champions League semi-finalist.
Grayson will fancy his team to get something out of this match, or at least to nick a draw and take it back to Elland Road. He knows we are suffering from a massive injury problems to the squad and that we will be rotating for tonight’s game. With Robin Van Persie off holidaying in Dubai, Grayson will no doubt be pleased not to face the most lethal striker playing in England at the moment.
However, I suspect that will not be the only change to the line-up tonight. Arsene Wenger has suspension and fatigue problems to look at before deciding his team selection. The manager was reluctant to trust his fringe players during the busy period towards the end of December – early January and fielded almost exactly the same eleven for those 4 games. With respect to Leeds, this is surely the game that Wenger can be trusted to field what is his best available second side.
Players like Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta and Alex Song are the 3 other main players who should attend tonight’s game as part of the supporting crowd. One could also add Per Mertesacker to that list but seeing as the German plays with a certain style, he should still have plenty in his tank to go on by. This match also comes too early for Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen. With no one coming in the transfer market just yet (apart from Henry of course), it will probably look more like the side that played Shrewsbury earlier in the Carling Cup.
Wenger said he will field a strong side to ensure that we qualify for the next stage of the competition and that should mean that it will be littered with first teamers who haven’t played as much and less reserves league players or the Under-18’s. He mentioned Marouane Chamakh and Park Ju Young in the same article but there’s no telling whether he will start both together or choose from either one of them. Here’s my crack at the starting line-up;
With Lukasz Fabianski injured and Vito Mannone out on loan, it looks likely that Manuel Almunia will get to play for Arsenal first team once again. Safe to say, how he will perform depends more on his own concentration and decision making rather than how good Leeds are in the attacking sense. For what it’s worth, the Spaniard remains a very good shot stopper but it is the aforementioned issues that saw him slipped down the pecking order.
Francis Coquelin should return to the central holding role despite making a very good impression in the left back role. The young French man will have plenty of experience in and around him with 3 international captain alongside him. Tomas Rosicky, Yossi Benayoun and Andrey Arshavin will be counted upon to provide the experience and leadership in midfield and in attack.
Further forward, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks likely to finally get another start in the red and white. It has been a long time since he last played for us and I understand the frustration from sections of the supporters who are wondering why he’s not being given a chance. AOC has shown right from the start that he has the talents to succeed but has perhaps been held back a little by Wenger.
It’s tough to comprehend. On one hand, he could be the special card to be played when we were lacking ideas during those 4 last games. Where his trickery and unpredictability might have thrown the opposition’s defence into disarray. However, on the hand, it is too much to expect a kid to be thrown at the deep end in high intensity games and be expected to be our saviour. For this, I’m with Wenger’s decision.
Realistically, the cup competition represents our best bet for trophies this season. The Carling Cup is now gone and the Champions League is a much tougher competition altogether. Therefore, the FA Cup could be our road to end these barren run. With the next round of fixtures already decided, a home tie against Aston Villa is not looked upon as the toughest of challenges. The side that Wenger put out, should it be anywhere near what I predicted, should be good enough to dispose of Leeds. Provided they play to their strength and not expect a walk in the park.
All that and I haven’t mentioned the possibility of Thierry Henry coming on as a substitute. The man who has won 3 FA Cup trophies with us will provide the experience but it is also wise to play down whatever high expectations we might have on his return. As wonderful it is for his to score, it is more important for others and especially Chamakh to find their form.
Here’s to a win tonight. Up The Arsenal!!!