Arsenal have a long and glorious history in the FA Cup, and only Manchester United have won the competition more often than them. It's been almost seven years since Arsenal last won the FA Cup, and it was also the last trophy they won. The way Arsenal's season is panning out I think the FA Cup has to be seen as their best chance of glory this season.
The draw has been fairly kind to Arsenal so far with two home games against teams they would be expected to beat. In the last round they beat Championship side Leeds United thanks to a goal from the returning Thierry Henry. It was a night that will be remembered for a long time by the Arsenal faithful, but only because of that Henry goal.
Besides that goal Arsenal struggled to beat a team which they should have easily beaten. Since the turn of the year Arsenal have being really struggling, and they followed up that victory over Leeds with three successive Premier League defeats. Their chances of having a say in the title race may be gone, but there is still hope that they can finish in the top four and qualify for next season's Champions League.
For them to do that they need to start getting some of their injured players back into the squad. It looks like those players are finally starting to return, and Bacary Sagna, Mikael Arteta, Thierry Henry and Francis Coquelin are all possibilities for the Villa game. However, Arsenal also play away to Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League three days later, and that may mean Arsene Wenger will be a little cautious in his choices.
With Johan Djourou still carrying a slight knock I think Nico Yennaris might well get a start at right back, but otherwise the defence will be the same as it was against Manchester United last week. In midfield it would be great to see Arteta return and bring some shape to the team, but I don't think he will be risked until Wednesday. I would like to see Tomas Rosicky start again too, and maybe Aaron Ramsey should be the player to make way for him.
Ramsey has looked very tired in recent games, and I think he needs a little break. It has been almost two years since his horrific leg break against Stoke City, and he has done remarkably well to have come so far considering the injury. Only three Arsenal players have started more games than him this season, and it looks to be taking it's toll.
If Arsenal had the use of the services of both Jack Wilshere and Abu Diaby I'm sure Ramsey wouldn't have played quite so often. The injuries to both of those players have made the workload on Ramsey a little too much, and his recent performances have shown that. Of course he's not the only Arsenal player to be performing below his best at the moment.
In attack I would imagine Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play from the start again, and it's a straight choice between Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin to play on the other side. Both of them are going through very poor runs at the moment, but I think Arshavin is more of a liability than Walcott. The central role is a different matter with Wenger having the option of playing either Henry or Ju Young Park in place of Robin van Persie.
If RVP plays it will show that Arsenal really are taking the FA Cup seriously this season. I would like to see them do so, but Premier League points are very precious at the moment too. The Champions League will be back in a few weeks, and Arsenal have a really tough schedule coming up.
All of the players due to return from injury will be needed if Arsenal are to have any hope of reaching their two main goals. If they finish the season in the top four, reach the last eight of the Champions League and win the FA Cup I think it will be a very successful season. The players have to find a way to put their recent form behind them, and very quickly too.
The workload on the midfield players has been immense so far this season without Wilshere and Diaby. There was bad news about Wilshere, as he suffered a setback in his recovery from his injury and Arsenal might have to do without his services for a while yet. Diaby is a different matter, and it seems nobody knows when or if he will ever return.
Arsenal have had a pretty impressive record at home this season, and their defence has been strong in those games. They may not have played with their old style and strength, but they have continued to get results most of the time.
Villa will see Arsenal as vulnerable at the moment and who can blame them. Robbie Keane scored two quite magnificent goals for them last week, and his loan move from the MLS looks to have been a smart move for them. I hope that Arsenal's loanee can make a similar impact over the next few weeks to help the team he supports.
Villa are the draw specialists of the Premier League so far this season, and I'm sure they would be happy with a draw in this game. Their best chance probably lies in going for a win, but hopefully they won't do so. Their wide players aren't of the same calibre as United's were last week, and Arsenal will hopefully be a little stronger at the back as a result.
The outcome of the game could well rest on how strong a team Arsenal play and what part RVP plays in proceedings too. He's the best striker in the Premier League by a mile this season, and if he plays at some stage Villa will be nervous of him. I hope he gets a 30 minute cameo at the end of the game and does enough to earn Arsenal a trip to the fifth round.
The draw for the fifth round will take place before Arsenal play which means the route to the last eight will be laid out for the players. A win over Villa and a favourable draw could be just the boost the players and fans alike need, and I'm predicting that they will get it. It will be a close game, but I hope the class of a few of the Arsenal players will shine through and get them the victory they so badly need.
I'm looking forward to Chamberlain growing in confidence and influence, as he gets more chances in the team. A goal for him against Villa which wins the game for Arsenal could be just what he needs to show Wenger that he has to be given more game time. He is a player that can make things happen, and Arsenal need more of them in my opinion.
That's it for today.
Here's the penalty shootout from the last time Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2005.
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