Thursday, 23 January 2014

Arsenal v Coventry City Preview

With Arsenal sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League they can take their minds off the chasing pack for the weekend as they play in the FA Cup against League One side Coventry City. Arsenal won 2-0 at home to local rivals Spurs in the third round to get through to this stage and a victory would put then through to the last 16. They're in the last 16 of the Chanpions League too and chasing glory on all three fronts.

It's a far cry from where they were at a similar stage last season after losing at home to Blackburn in the FA Cup and so far off the Premier League pace that they hard to pull something out of the hat just to finish fourth. That defeat to Blackburn was a lesson in what went wrong for Arsenal for most of last season as they dominated the game against a team they should beat, but were hit with a sucker punch. It's been very different this season though with the defensive stability they discovered in the last 10 games of last season holding firm as they have raked up win after win. They have played 44 competitive games since the defeat to Spurs in the league last season and they have won 32, drawn six and lost six of those games.

It's been a great time to be an Arsenal fan with setbacks few and far between and the club finally competing with the big boys in the transfer market. They broke the club's transfer record by a mile when Mesut Ozil was signed on deadline day and his arrival was a huge boost to the players and the fans too. There are those who gripe at the moment about him not doing enough, but there is plenty more to come from one of the best players in the world.

In contrast their opponents are in turmoil and things have got progressively worse for them since relegation from the Premier League in 2001. I could write ad nauseum about their plight including relegations, administration, relocation and the club being bought over by a hedge fund registered in the Cayman Islands, but this piece does it a lot better than I ever could. It's sad to see the plight of a club from a city which brought us the second coming of Ska and hosts the Two Tone museum. 

Coventry's chances will really depend upon Arsenal's attitude to the game. As long as Arsenal go out with the right attitude and tempo they have to be good enough to win by a few goals at least even with players rested and others injured. Nothing can be taken for granted in football though as both Blackburn and Bradford showed Arsenal last season.

I would expect to see Lukasz Fabianski play in goal again as he did in the last round and the defence could see a few changes too. Carl Jenkinson might well get a run out at right back with Kieran Gibbs coming in on the left. Gibbs only lost his place to Nacho Monreal because of injury but he will have to fight hard to try to win it back. I don't think Thomas Vermaelen will be fit to play which should mean Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will play in the centre of defence. It has to be hoped that they can both stay fit for the rest of the season as the defence is so much better with both of them in it.

In midfield Mathieu Flamini should continue in the holding role as Mikel Arteta is still out and I just can't see Emmanuel Frimpong suddenly getting a chance. I think the other two midfield places will probably be taken by Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla with Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey injured and Ozil probably rested.  Both of them are in fine form at the moment and could possibly do with a break but the injuries to others will probably see them play.

The attacking trio could well be made up of Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Nicklas Bendtner. Both Podolski and Chamberlain need some game time as they are just back from lengthy injuries and Bendtner has been declared available for selection after getting injured scoring the all important breakthrough goal against Cardiff a few weeks ago. There is also the possibility of Serge Gnabry playing and Chamberlain dropping back into midfield which is a position the boss says he will end up playing in the long term.

Despite the absences from injuries and players rested it will still be a very strong Arsenal team and they should be able to create plenty of chances against Coventry on the night. Coventry's games have been far from dull affairs this season with 100 goals in their 26 league games and they would be in the play off places if they hadn't been deducted 10 points for going into administration. They have scored 55 of those goals themselves but that means they have conceded 45 goals in those games.

It's more than a little odd to see Arsenal playing on a Friday night and I don't think it has happened since that glorious night on May 26th 1989. That was one of the greatest nights in the history of Arsenal and one which I will never forget. That game was played on a Friday night for a very different reason though and it wasn't just for the interests of the TV companies.

If there is genuine interest in reviving the fortunes of the FA Cup then playing games on a Friday night is not going to further those interests. It's an inconvenience to Arsenal fans but the Coventry fans have to travel to London on a working day and it won't be easy for them. Of course a replay would also be on a working day but at the least the original games have to be scheduled for weekends. 

I think Arsenal are going to win by a few goals and win through to the fifth round before getting back to the far more important business of the league trip to Southampton on Tuesday. The FA Cup is certainly winnable for Arsenal this season but not at the expense of their genuine chance of winning the league. It won't be easy to stay ahead of both City and Chelsea but it's something this team have shown the ability and the attitude to do.

I'm hoping to see good performances from the returning players tonight with both Bendtner and Podolski having a point to prove. Both of them could have a role to play as the season draws to a climax and hopefully they will give the boss something to think about. It will be good to see Chamberlain back too with Theo Walcott's season over and his only about to begin after getting injured on the opening day of the season. If he's going to have a chance of going to the World Cup with England he's going to have to play well for the rest of the season and hopefully Arsenal can reap the rewards from those performances.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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