Thursday, 14 February 2013

Arsenal's FA Cup Game With Blackburn Rovers Previewed

It's back to FA Cup action for Arsenal tomorrow when Championship side Blackburn Rovers come to the Emirates looking to cause an upset. Arsenal have struggled more than a little to reach the last 16 of the Cup, but they have an opportunity to get through to the business end of the competition.

It's the first game in a very big week for Arsenal and I have no doubt there will be some squad rotation. With a massive game at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday night I fully expect to see some first team regulars on the bench at least. Arsene Wenger has said he has two players for every position and it's time for a few of those fringe players to get a run out.

The FA Cup is Arsenal's best hope of a trophy this season, but I still cannot see a full strength team playing. There are only a couple of positions where his choices are really limited due to injuries and suspension. If he does choose to play a full strength team it most certainly will be a change from how he has treated this competition in the past when there has been a big European or League game coming up so soon afterwards.

I think Wojciech Szczesny will play in goal with a defence of Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Ignasi Miquel and Nacho Monreal in front of him. Carl Jenkinson would have played but he is suspended after being sent off last week with Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny still possibly both injured. Even if either or both of them are fit I don't expect them to be risked ahead of the Bayern game as they will most certainly be needed for that.

Normally only one of the two of them would play alongside Mertesacker, but Vermaelen will be needed at left back with Kieran Gibbs injured and Monreal cup tied. If Vermaelen hasn't recovered for the Bayern game we could well see Sagna play on the left with Jenkinson on the right. It all sounds very makeshift and not exactly ideal to play against a team with the attacking options Bayern have.

In midfield against Blackburn Arsenal still have plenty of options and I expect to see Santi Cazorla, Mikael Arteta and Jack Wilshere rested. Wilshere is an injury doubt and he will be given every chance to be ready for the Bayern game. There will still be plenty of quality available in midfield though.

I would imagine both Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby will play and the other position is up for grabs. I see it as a straight choice between Francis Coquelin and Tomas Rosicky as long as both of them are fit enough to play. It all depends on what way the team will play on the day with Rosicky giving more going forward and Coquelin offering some defensive stability.

The front three could prove a little trickier with the central striking role providing a real dilemna. I think the wide roles will be taken by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho, but he will have to opt for either Olivier Giroud or Walcott through the middle. Ideally he would like to rest them both, but I think Giroud is going to have to play an awful lot of games between now and the end of the season and he will get the nod tomorrow.

That team would see about seven players given a rest ahead of Tuesday night and it would be a bit of a gamble. Arsenal were hardly convincing with a similar team in the last round when they won 3-2 away to Brighton. In that game the win was rescued by the introduction of Wilshere and Walcott from the bench and I expect the bench to be equally strong tomorrow.

Blackburn will be keen to cause an upset but I'm sure they would swap any FA Cup progress for an immediate return to the Premier League. As I said earlier they are well capable of scoring goals with Jordan Rhodes in particular a real threat. They haven't traveled too well in the league this season with only three wins in 15 games in the league below Arsenal.

They have managed to draw nine away games though and I have no doubt a draw would be quite acceptable for them. I imagine their stall will be set out to defend and see if they can get any joy on the break or from set pieces. It's a familiar set up for Arsenal to face at home and no matter what team is chosen Arsenal have the players to progress on the day.

I'm hoping for a few good performances from players given their chance and from Ramsey in particular. He's looked good in recent weeks and it would be good to see more of the same from him. If Rosicky plays he could be the player to prise open a stubborn Blackburn defence as he has that something extra that every team needs.

Both Chamberlain and Gervinho need a few chances to impress too for different reasons. Chamberlain's season has passed him by just a little without making much progress on his first season at the club, but a good display could see him get so more chances for the rest of the season. Gervinho has flattered to deceive far too often and needs some good displays to convince the fans he is capable of making a real impact at the club.

Ideally Arsenal will win by a couple of goals and not pick up any injuries to their defenders in particular. They're more than capable of doing so and booking a place in the last eight of the FA Cup along with some of the other top teams in the Premier League. If they do get through there could be some very interesting ties in those quarter finals.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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