It's going to be a very early start for me as I have to get up at 3am to make my flight, but I'll be lucky if I sleep at all such is the excitement at seeing Arsenal play. I've already made plans to meet friends near the ground and get some breakfast as we wait for The Tollington to open at 11 for some pre game refreshments. There's no better watering home in the vicinity of the ground and it's great to be among 700 Arsenal fans on match day before and after the game.
I suppose I should mention the game itself at this stage and the competition we're playing in too. Arsenal ended their longest run without a trophy since I started supporting them in 1970 by winning the FA Cup in 2014 and then they went on to retain the trophy last season. They have won the FA Cup more times than any other team and it's a competition that they are more than capable of winning again.
The last team to win the Cup three years in a row was Blackburn Rovers in 1886, but plenty of teams have won twice in a row in the 130 years since then. It would be fantastic if Arsenal could go on to win the cup and emulate that feat. Having said that they are currently on top of the Premier League just past the halfway stage of the season and they face a tough trip to Liverpool on Wednesday night followed by a trip to Stoke the Sunday after that.
The question is whether Arsene Wenger will risk playing his strongest team with those two games coming up or if he will give a chance to some fringe players and some of the younger players. Sam Allardyce has already said he won't be playing his strongest side with a huge game for Sunderland away to Swansea on Wednesday night in their struggle to avoid relegation. When it comes to attempting to avoid relegation their FA Cup chances fade into insignificance.
The boss has said that the third round can be tricky and he wants to progress so I suspect he will play a relatively strong team. Alexis Sanchez won't play a part in proceedings as he still hasn't recovered from injury, but hopefully he can make his return against Liveepool or Stoke. The only player to add to the squad from last week is the fit again Mikel Arteta who managed 45 minutes for the under 21s during the week, but I would be surprised to see him in from the start as he has suffered from being thrown back into the action too soon in the past.
I imagine David Ospina will be the cup keeper for this season and we will see Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel Paulista, Calum Chambers and Joel Campbell in from the start as they were on the bench last week. Mathieu Debuchey is a different story as it looks like he is on his way out of the club on loan and I don't know if he will be in the right frame of mind to play. If any of the younger players are to get a run you would imagine it would be a choice between Alex Iwobe and Jeff Reine-Adelaide and maybe even both of them.
I think one of them could possibly play and I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain needs more game time too so he might well be included. Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott could all probably do with a rest, but they will surely be on the bench if they don't start. It's all about striking a balance between finding a team that can win the game and making sure the players are ready for the challenges ahead.
Sunderland have little to lose in this game and the players who do get the nod for them could well play with the freedom that brings. They have a very poor away record in the Premier League this season, but they played quite well when Arsenal beat them 3-1 a few weeks ago. If Arsenal can find their attacking rhythm I think they should have more than enough to overcome a team who will do very well not to drop to the Championship for next season.
I'll be somewhere in the upper tier of the East Stand, freezing cold, watching the action and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's been too long since I last saw Arsenal play and hopefully it will be nowhere near as long before I get to see them again. A win is what's required on the day as we can do without any replays and I think the team will deliver just that.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.