Arsenal face Leeds United at home tonight in the third round of the FA Cup, and they already know their opponents in the next round if they win. The draw was made after yesterday's games, and the winners of tonight's game will play at home to Aston Villa at the end of January. It's another potential home tie for Arsenal, and their route to the fifth round is laid out for them.
Arsenal are currently fifth in the Premier League, and they're twelve points behind the leaders with 18 games left to play. It's not an unassailable lead, but realistically Arsenal cannot win the league in my opinion. They are through to the last 16 of the Champions League, but I cannot realistically see them winning that either.
That leaves only one actual target for a trophy this season, and it's the FA Cup of course. I think Arsene Wenger needs to treat the FA Cup very seriously this season, and play the strongest team he can in every single game in it. There is no room for error, and a trophy in the cabinet would be a very welcome sight after a gap of almost seven years.
First things first though, and Arsenal have to make sure they get a result against Leeds tonight. They played each other at the same stage in last season's FA Cup, and Arsenal were lucky to get a replay with a last minute Cesc Fabregas penalty. They managed to win the replay away to Leeds 3-1, but hopefully they can do the job at the first time of asking tonight.
Arsenal have being struggling just a little recently, and the main reason is their lack of full backs in my opinion. With the first two choices at right back and left back both out Arsenal had to play central defenders in those positions. Due to more injuries and suspensions for tonight's game they will be even more limited in their choices.
Wenger has very few options at full back tonight, but I have a feeling that the roles will be filled by Francis Coquelin and Laurent Koscielny. That would leave Per Mertesacker and Sebastien Squillaci as the obvious choices in central defence, but there is always the possibility that Ignasi Miquel will play in one of the four defensive roles. It will be a makeshift defence, and they will need to be at their best to make sure Arsenal get the result they want.
I'm a little worried that Wenger will resort to the tactic of playing his reserve goalkeeper in the FA Cup this season. I wouldn't mind so much if it was Lukasz Fabianski despite his performance against Olympiacos, but Manuel Almunia has been on the Arsenal bench for their last five games. The prospect of watching him play fills me with dread, and I really hope it doesn't happen.
I have no doubt that Arsenal tried to offload Almunia last summer, but they were unable to do so. I can only imagine that no other clubs were willing to pay him what Arsenal are paying him, and he will remain at the club until his contract expires. I'm not sure exactly when that is, but with Vito Mannone now out on loan it's possible he will play again this season.
The options are a little better in midfield and attack, and I expect to see one or two fringe players get a chance to show what they can do. I would hope to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain play from the start, and possibly Tomas Rosicky too. Arsenal have signed one new player already in this transfer window, and Wenger has said he will play a part in tonight's game.
Thierry Henry has played for the club before of course, and he has returned on loan for the next six weeks or so. He'll be hoping to add to his haul as the club's record goalscorer during that spell, and it would be great to see him get a goal tonight. I'm not sure if he will play from the start, or if he will be introduced as a substitute at some stage.
I am sure that he will receive a magnificent reception from the Arsenal fans though, and I can't wait to see him in red and white again. He may have lost some of his pace since he left the club in 2007, but he still has plenty to offer in my opinion. I can only imagine the reaction of the fans if he actually manages to score tonight.
I think Robin van Persie should be rested tonight after all of his exertions over the tough festive schedule. That would mean Park Ju-Young would get to play at some stage too, and he surely has to be given a chance with Marouane Chamakh on international duty. Park has hardly played at all since his arrival in August, but Wenger says that he is ready to play.
With both Chamakh and Gervinho on African Cup of Nations duty with their countries there are opportunities for other players to make a mark. However the amount of injuries added to their unavailability makes the squad look very thin. The need to bring in a left back on loan was highlighted by Wenger, and Arsenal need one immediately.
After tonight's game they will travel to Swansea City in the Premier League next week, and then they play at home to Manchester United the following week. The only defenders who will be back for the United game will be the suspended Johan Djourou and the injured Thomas Vermaelen, and Arsenal will still have no recognised full backs. If they are to sign a left back on loan I think he has to be available to play in that game.
Despite the lack of full backs I still expect Arsenal to be too strong for Leeds tonight, and I think they will finish the job at the first time of asking this season. Leeds aren't as good as they were last season, and they're currently eighth in the Championship. The players available to Wenger are more than capable of beating a team in eighth place in the Championship.
I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal, and I'm really hoping for Henry to get his name on the scoresheet. I'm looking forward to another chance of see Chamberlain in action too, and I hope he plays so well that the Wenger simply cannot afford to leave him out of the team.
I'm sure Leeds will work very hard to prevent Arsenal from playing, but as long as Arsenal work just as hard they should be good enough. It would be nice if they put away more than a few of the many chances they have being making in recent games, but s long as they win I will be happy.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from that 1-1 draw with Leeds last season.
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