Saturday, 4 January 2014

Arsenal's FA Cup Game With Spurs Previewed

It's FA Cup third round day and Arsenal face arch rivals Spurs in the evening kick off at The Emirates Stadium. It's a tough draw for both teams at this early stage in the competition and one of them will exit at the first hurdle. That will be a bitter pill to swallow for the losers with both teams having such an excellent pedigree in the FA Cup. Manchester United have won the FA Cup 11 times and the two North London rivals are next in the list of overall winners with 10 to Arsenal and eight to Spurs.

It's been a hectic festive schedule for both teams over the last few weeks and injuries have taken their toll. Arsenal will have to do without the services of Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Nicklas Bendtner and probably Oliver Giroud too. Giroud looks to have recovered from his ankle injury, but has come down with an illness and the signs aren't positive for his participation today.

It means Nacho Monreal will continue at left back, but I would be surprised if there are any other changes to the defence with the possible exception of Lukasz Fabianski getting a chance seeming as it's the FA Cup. Arsene Wenger has usually picked his second choice goalkeeper in FA Cup games and I can't imagine it will be any different in this game. Fabianski has been very unlucky over the past couple of seasons as he has picked up injuries on every occasion when he has looked like staking a genuine claim for a first team place.

There must be a temptation for the boss to rest one or two players in the FA Cup as he has done in previous seasons, but this game is too important to do so in my opinion. First of all it's against arch rivals Spurs and it means so much to the fans that it has to be treated very seriously and secondly the team have some real momentum and a defeat could damage that. The FA Cup may be seen as a distraction with Arsenal topping the league and through to the last 16 of the Champions League, but no game against Spurs can be surrendered at any time.

The lack of Bendtner or Giroud will probably mean Lukas Podolski leads the attack again and hopefully he can do a bit better in that role than he did on Wednesday against Cardiff. Ideally Giroud would recover in time but I don't think that will happen and the team will have to try to adapt to Podolski's strengths. The game against Cardiff was Podolski's first start since August due to injury and hopefully he has benefitted from the game time.

In midfield I have a feeling both Mathieu Flamini and Mikael Arteta will start again as a defensive duo with Jack Wilshere taking up the attacking duties. That would leave Theo Walcott on the right of the attacking trio and probably Santi Cazorla on the left although there is a chance of Tomas Rosicky playing instead of any of those players. There is also a possibility of Serge Gnabry taking one of the wide roles, but I have a feeling the team will be the same one which started against Cardiff.

The team really missed a focal point in attack in that game and they will have to do their best without one today as well. Spurs set themselves up to play on the counter attack away from home and got a good win away to United on Wednesday with those tactics. They have won seven of their 10 Premier League games away from home and have a far better record on their travels than they do at home. 

While Arsenal always try to push forward on the front foot at home they will have to be wary of being hit on the counter attack. They cannot afford to over commit players forward or they could find themselves left short at the back. The team have plenty of games to play at the moment, but a draw wouldn't be the worst result as Giroud would surely be back for the replay and Spurs are a lot less dangerous at home. 

Having said that I of course want Arsenal to win on the day and get a much needed week of rest before playing away to Villa on Monday week. That break would give some players a chance to return from injury and maybe give the boss some time to browse the transfer market for the striker and central defender which the club really need to add for the sake of their title challenge. Whether he actually buys anyone or not is another matter, but hopefully he can at least try to set himself a couple of targets and then try to convince their clubs to sell them. 

It's always hectic between Arsenal and Spurs and this game has the added incentive of being a cup fixture. I expect to see the game played at a high pace and to see the tackles flying in from the first minute to the last. Refereeing decisions have been to the fore in most of Arsenal's recent games and hopefully this game won't be ruined by any more bad decisions. Surely Arsenal have to be given a penalty at some stage after being denied so many over the festive period and hopefully any serious foul play will be appropriately dealt with for a change.

I would be surprised if either team kept a clean sheet and I think if there is a winner it will be only by one goal. As I said I would be happy with a draw and the opportunity to fight another day but I'm predicting a narrow Arsenal victory. Ideally I'd love to see Podolski thrive in the central strikers role and get the goals to win the game.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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