Saturday, 28 January 2017

Arsenal's FA Cup Fourth Round Game At Southampton Previewed

Arsenal face a trip to Southampton this evening in the fourth round of the FA Cup and despite it only being January the cup might just be their best chance of a trophy. They're second in the league right now and through to the last 16 of the Champions League too, but recent history has taught us some valuable lessons about getting our hopes up in either of those competitions. Mind you we're living in a world where History lessons appear to be forgotten and maybe we should all believe Arsenal are headed for the ultimate double.

The prospect of facing Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League is one which should fill us with nervous trepidation though and the thoughts of needing plenty of points off the rest of the top six in the league in our final 16 games should make us fearful too. I'm not trying to be a merchant of doom and I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but it's hard not to believe the FA Cup has to be our best chance of a trophy.

We are the joint record winners of the trophy after United won it in May to join us on 12 victories in the final and we won it the two seasons previous to them. Arsene Wenger has also won the trophy six times and that can only be matched by one other manager in history. The reasons for us to win the cup are there for all to see, but we might need to put out a pretty strong team today just to have a chance of getting through to the next round.

Southampton have already knocked us out of the EFL Cup this season and they're now through to the final where they will face United. To do so they had to put Liverpool out in the semi final on Wednesday night and they went up there and won 1-0 on the night for a 2-0 aggregate victory. Maybe our chances today will be improved by them having to put so much into that game and the euphoria their players will probably have felt after their victory.

St. Mary's hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal recently and we have actually struggled against Southampton both home and away. The 4-0 defeat down there in the league last season was a low point and all too often we have struggled to score against them. If we're going to progress we're going to have to strike a fine balance between first choice players and those who might not be.

The obvious absentee is Granit Xhaka who is serving a four match ban after his red card in the fairly humdrum win against Burnley last week. The events of that game will also see Arsene Wenger serve a four game touch line ban which should see Steve Bould directing things from the sideline today. To be honest the boss isn't the most vocal from the bench and he usually spends most of his time struggling with the zip on his jacket if we are to believe his detractors.

For me the obvious players to come in will be David Ospina, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lucas Perez and Danny Welbeck and I don't see too much change after them. If he's really going for it we can expect to see Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud start, but I suspect they will be saved for Tuesday night's league game at home Watford. They have been on a really poor run recently and their need for points will mean they will make it a real battle.

Maybe Hector Bellerin will start too as he only got a few minutes off the bench against Burnley after returning from injury and he has to be a certainty for Tuesday night. If we can beat Watford and Chelsea don't win away to Liverpool we might just see some light before we go to Chelsea next weekend. That game could make or break our season and we need to go into it in the best position possible.

I sincerely hope we're still up there by the week after that as I will be at the game at home to Hull. The difference in atmosphere on the day will be huge if we're breathing down Chelsea's neck rather than ruling ourselves out of the title race in early February. It will be my only trip to the Emirates this season and it's something I'm really looking forward to.

I think today's game will be very close and we might have to bring the likes of Alexis, Ozil and Giroud off the bench to seal the deal or get us back in the game. A draw wouldn't be the worst result, but it would mean a replay to cope with and Bayern just around the corner too. It's better than going out though and I would take it right now if it was on offer.

When things start to get hectic again for Arsenal we have to remember that both Chelsea and Liverpool don't have European football to worry about due to their ineptitude last season. They've both still in the FA Cup, but a replay for us would certainly complicate our schedule. Having said that I still wouldn't be adverse to coming away with a draw today all things considered.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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