They should really call it the AFC Cup, not the FA Cup.
Arsenal are the most successful team in the history of the competition. We have won it 14 times, including four times in the last seven years. It is “our” trophy more than any other in football’s pantheon.
Which all gives Mikel Arteta something of a conundrum today.
We have rediscovered our form in the last three matches thanks to a shift in formation, the introduction of some young players in key roles and the abandonment of certain senior pros who were not pulling their weight.
So does El Patron persist with that winning formula today and start Smith Rowe as a Number 10 and Saka wide right? Does the encouraging partnership of Holding and Mari get another outing at centre back? Do we play Lacazette down the middle again?
Or does the boss look at this competition as being not quite as important as the league games and bring back the likes of Pepe, Willian and Luiz to get them some game time?
Such is the nature of these things that I suspect he will go for a compromise approach, putting out partly a “cup team” but trying to do it in such a way as not to dent our momentum.
We don’t play again until Thursday night (home to Palace in the League), giving us a full five days to recover, so fatigue should not be an issue with selection.
Nevertheless, if El Patron decides to rest someone like Smith Rowe, it can easily be presented to the player as being a decision based on his importance (“I really want to keep you fresh and fit for these vital league games coming up”).
By the same token, in a long season we are bound to need to call on players like Willian, Pepe and Luiz at some point as a result of injuries, suspension or tiredness, so there is sense in keeping them fresh and motivated.
I have no doubt that Arteta will want to come out on top today and to win this competition overall. He won it as a player for Arsenal and again in his first half-season in charge as manager, the latter hugely cementing his position and helping protect him during the recent terrible run of form. And also giving us fans a joyful end to a difficult season, it should be pointed out.
He said in his press conference: “We are the holders, we have to defend that title. We know what it means to the club and the history that is related to the FA Cup. It’s a great competition to play in for us.”
What of our opposition? Steve Bruce seems like a decent bloke but his team have struggled to get into gear this year. Newcastle sit 15th in the Premier League (only four points behind us!) but they have shown some ability to lift themselves for cup games, reaching the quarter finals of the EFL Cup.
Premier League survival will be top priority for Bruce and Newcastle this year but a good cup run can lift spirits and improve league form, so they will be equally keen to do well today.
Through a combination of our recent resurgence, the fact the game is at The Emirates and the quality of the opposition we should prevail, but it won’t be handed to us on a plate. We need the same effort and application we saw against Chelsea and West Brom in particular.
As far as player availability goes, Partey and Gabriel were still being assessed as of yesterday (the former for his thigh injury, the latter for Covid). Everyone else seems to be available.
My guess at the line-up:
Bellerin – Holding – Luiz – Tierney
Xhaka – Elneny
Pepe – Smith Rowe – Martinelli
My reasoning is that Martinelli deserves another start and the cup is an opportunity to rest Aubameyang without it being a case of “dropping the captain.” Much as I would like to see Saka start I fancy either Willian or Pepe will be given the right attacking position and I have plumped for the Ivorian.
I fancy Arteta will want to give Luiz some game time, so Mari will (unluckily) miss out. I don’t have a problem with Luiz starting. He was vital to us winning the trophy last year. We just have to hope he doesn’t have one of those ‘Dopey Daviiiid’ moments.
I suppose we could put Balogun or Eddie in the central striker role but I can’t see either of them being able to slot into it and instantly achieve what Lacazette has done, so I think we’ll persevere with the in-form Frenchman.
If Arteta decides to rest Smith Rowe for this one then the most appropriate replacement might well be Willian (gulp). If so, he really owes the fans a performance.
Over to you. What sort of team should we be putting out today?
Thanks for the read Rocky.
It really is an interesting day for guessing the team. The possibilities seem to be endless.
We really do have all our eggs in the Leno basket, goodness help us if he gets this virus thing that is going around, I hear it is quite contagious!
Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney
Willian, Smith Rowe, Martinelli
I think Arteta is trying to get Martinelli and Auba to alternate through out the game and hence the reason why I expect that paring to start, as does the Luis/Gabriel pairing need practice.
I would obviously want Saka to start but Arteta has to find a way to gives others some minutes.
What a great read Rocky, no doubt Arteta has many things on his mind today with selection, and as LB says there are endless possibilities.
First player I want to see in the XI is Maitland-Niles. He deserves game time, and I’d like to see him in midfield taking either Elneny or Xhaka’s place.
At the back I’m happy to see Hector and Tierney with Kola gone do we have left back cover? If not maybe we should rest him. I’d also be happy to see Cedric at right back.
If we change full backs we shouldn’t change centre back mix, although I would like to see Mari paired with someone other than Holding to give some chance for others to play alongside each other.
In goal as LB says all eggs are in the Leno basket, but Runnarsson needs games to rebuild confidence, to play Macey would be totally demoralising to Runnarsson, that said if he is in the team then make no doubt Bruce will test that fragile confidence. It will either make or break him.
Up the pitch I would play Martinelli up top, Pepe and Willian on either flank.
It is indeed our Cup and thank for another great post Rocky.
Leno – Soares, Luiz, Mari, AMN – El Neny (or Partey if fit), Ceba – Willian, Pepe, Martinelli – Balogun
Excellent post, Rocky,
One of the things about blogging which I regret, is where I have an opinion which is diametrically opposed to guys I like and think of as friends, and may cause dissension between us – it shouldn’t as it is not point scoring at all.
I would in any event feel a little circumspect if I did not voice my preference, because I do not mind reading opinions quite different from my own, no matter who expresses them.
What I am about to write could be classed as an oxymoron, because there is an element of contradiction, but here goes.
Rocky and GIE, you both make very sensible and straight from the shoulder statements that show direct agreement with each other, and which I am always in agreement with too. (where’s that oxy?)
However, you both have expressed your opinions that Hector Protector, aka Belli Button, and also AMN, aka …. erm….. AMN, are, in your opinions, very good players, with whom you are content with their inclusion in tonight’s team.
Pour moi, they are flaky, and have little going for them as first team players, and in truth if they were included — out — of the team, I daresay I would not notice, and if by happenstance I did improbably notice, I would be pleased.
However, having skirted the ‘oxy’ above, I feel the hot breath of the ‘moron’ breathing in my ear, because if Xhaka reverted to his can’t tackle, hot tempered, too slow self, then I would be happy for AMN to take his place,
Likewise, if Hector Protector resumed his back passing, harebrained, non-defensive, hopeless attempts to head a ball away at corners persona, and despite that, scored two goals tonight, I would welcome him as a true warrior and not a light weight powder puff.
I will now have an anxious wait for tonight’s team roster to come out, in case I am to be subjected to excoriating rebuffs from the pair of you.
I am going to keep my fingers, toes and eyes crossed hoping Arteta saves the day by only putting the pair of them on the bench. 😁
With regard to the non-catching Leno and confused Runaroundson, the die has already been cast – they will not have any cause of concern from the 6’6″ GK, known as Mat Macey, because he is in contract talks for a permanent move — despite him being a better GK than either of them — not that that would be too difficult to achieve. 😜
Thanks Rocky. We need to keep the same formation and I dont want Willian onbthe right but would play him at number 10 to see if we have a 2nd good option after ESR in that position.
Pepe gets the right side for me. Unsure about whether to go with Martinelli onbthe left but Auba needs a goal so might be good playing him on the left. To be fair Martinelli could go up top or Nketieh and I agree about AMN getting a go.
We really dont have proper cover for Tierney which is an oversight and needs to be addressed this TW. Is there someone on the academy?. My team:
Soares—– Luiz —– Gabriel —– ?
———- AMN ———- Elneny
—- Pepe —– Nketieh —— Aubamayeng
Martinelli definitely gets some game time for me today at some point. Wouldn’t mind seeing him up top though with Auba playing to his left.
Is that the team you want GB or expect?
I expect he wants it, LB. 🥺
RA your view is not that radical, Hector may have breathed the same rarified air as Saka when he soared as high as Bakayo is doing right now but things move on and just when one position is strengthened the frailty of another becomes apparent.
It seems the finger of concern is starting to point to Bellerin but in fairness he has improved during the last few weeks but again I think that has got an awful lot to do with Saka and the cover his provides.
It’s the one I want LB. It’s not what I consider our strongest but we need to rotate and also get players like Pepe, Willian and Auba firing. They will be important to our season and we cant burn out Saka and ESR. We need to find options in those positions from within.
Crucially, although my team has some players out of form, it maintains the formation of 2 holding midfielders, 1 attacking midfielder or number 10 and 2 attacking inverted goal scorers either side of a number 9.
That’s a relief, LB. 😁
With RC78 on this one, except Gabi for Mari…
Kids needs some rest, pensioners need to earn it.
In that analysis GiE is very much the ox (I have met him and he’s a solid chap as befits a high quality goalie) and I am the moron.
But yes, we’ll have to agree to differ about Belli. He had a (very) long run of poor form after his long term injury but, like LB, I think he has regained some of his mojo recently.
It’s interesting to see how many of our recent chances have come from Belli surging forward into what used to be called the ‘inside right’ position and releasing Saka or ESR.
Well, no Gabi, must not be fit, 2 left footed players as cb’s, AMN not starting, Nelson back on the sheet, but no Balo.
Here’s the team:
Cedric – Luiz – Mari – Tierney
Elneny – Willock
Pepe – Willian – Aubameyang
I’m guessing at the formation, but it could be Martinelli up front with Willian in the No 10 role more recently filled by ESR.
Saka, ESR and Laca among the subs.
For a second there, GB, I thought your comment @ 3:21 was tipping into a sink of iniquity, with those recognisable tactical explanations dear to your heart enveloped in a morass of words with no numeric interplay to comfort us.
Where were the 4 2 3 4, or 1 3 3 1 explanations and left foot in your right pocket and and right foot on the goal line.
And then we were saved — there was a formation of 2; an attacking midfielder sucking a lolly by himself or having a number 2; and inverted goals sandwiching a number 9.
Bliss, absolute bliss, I understood nothing and all was well.
We can definitely have a hope of winning this evening, thanks to your genius with tactical numeracy and a coupe of spare right legs!! 😛
Well, I got Leno right lol
I’ll be watching Willian very closely. I hope he take his opportunity to put in a better performance.
Only 6/10 for me LB.
Partey remains in cotton wool, not a bad thing, we will really need him in a few week’s time.
Unsurprisingly, I have made a mess of my prose, again.
In no circumstances are you and GIE any part of an oxymoron, as that is strictly reserved for me.
Shakingspeare, when rather irritated by me, asked if I was the front end of an oxymoron, and I confessed I was not, then he asked if I was the rear end of an oxymoron and I said I was not — aha, he quoth then you are a self admitted no end of an oxymoron.
Hurtful, but true.
[He incorporated that oxymoron castigation into ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Act 3 — altho he might have said ‘ass’ instead —- who knows with that bloke! 🙄
Thank goodness, LB, that team means no Belli or AMN and I can look both Rocky and GIE in the eye — they have 1 between the 2 of them — just ask GB. 🤪
I think Mikel must have read your comments and withheld inclusion of Belli and AMN accordingly.
Mikel and I are like addled twins!! 😁
Stylish PM as ever, thank you Rocky. All I would say is that momentum is key, the players El Patron selects have to be brave, energetic and work their socks off.
I’m just watching the build up to the match and see that Martinelli went down in the warm up and looked in considerable pain. He won’t play, let’s hope the injury is not too bad.
Oh bloody hell – Martinelli looks to have injured himself quite badly in the warm up.
Typical! How do we keep getting injured in warm ups?
Only at AFC…..
I see our nemesis Andy Caroll is playing …
Come on Reiss
Not a great vote of confidence for Runarsson, is it?
And with Macey on his way out I assume we’re in the market for another back-up stopper.
Two shots in first two minutes 😳
Shame Balogun isn’t on the bench , he’d be a good replacement for Martinelli
We’ve had some games where we’ve had no shots after 90.
Why u said that rocky?
Reiss Nelsson is looking good
Said what Fred?
His touch on that Pepe pass was rough on the eyes…
He drew the foul Aaron … I think he knew he’d either be clear with a run on goal .. or he’d win a free kick
Rasp, meant the one that Pepe curled to him that would have put him in…
Oh yes, agree there Aaron. Reiss is super quick, if it ever came to a choice between him and Eddie, I’d take RN, he has a better all round game
Instantly Luiz, Willian, Pepe want to slow everything down. Dynamism is what lifted us and is the way forward, please.
About runners not having a future or did I misread
Shame AMN not playing
Arteta has usually picked his second choice keeper for cup games, so Run would have expected to play tonight.
Leno starting suggests Arteta has real doubts about Run.
It makes you wonder why we even keep Macey don’t you think Rocky?
You did not have question marks when you saw he looks like a 15 year old kid?
RA, your description of my tactical preferences is so much more poetic than how I put it.
Hmmm .. seems our hopes for Willian were misplaced
Or didn’t realise runners not playing
My god is willian dotish, how going to near post even makes sense there
Did thy eyes just see Willian shoot it that poorly?
If he is going to try and control it and shift the ball onto his left, just drag back and square to Auba…..
How many touches does Willian take to get to the center of ????
Nelson first time it mate, Tierney with a wonderful cross, nice spin, speed, and just begging to get blasted into the corner…
I just can’t fathom why we bought Cedric?
And back to “stupid” on our goal kicks.
U an me both rasp surely AMN way better than him
Well so far all we have seen is how much this teams needs Saka and ESR
It wasn’t that bad.
Plenty of attempts on goal (hope we don’t end up regretting them).
I actually think Willian has looked better tonight.
But Rasp’s point about Saka and ESR is accurate.
There is a ‘class’ gap between them and the likes of Pepe, Nelson, Willock and Willian.
Willock looks very one footed and needs to take more touches than the likes of Saka, ESR, Martinelli.
Nelson also looks to have a poor touch and poor decision making.
We have to remember that some of these players haven’t had many first team opportunities so it’s asking a lot to find their top form straight away.
But I think that class gap is real.
I will give it a go but I know it is like trying to push water up hill:
Soares was brought as an insurance policy against Bellerin getting an injury that keeps him out for the season (it has happened before).
AMN is not a right back and putting yourself in his shoes you can see that being back up to Bellerin is not what he aspires to.
In fact, I would go further, if Soares was not here and AMN thought that all he was just back up to Hector he would be be playing for Wolves in a blink of an eye.
I actually predict that he will play for Wolves anyway but that is another story.
I think Soares has been OK.
Apart from Tierney who is the stand out I don’t think Soares has been any worse than anyone else.
Elneny is looking solid
I take your point LB, but would question the ambition of clubs that pay good money for a back up player … surely we should try to buy a quality player who will compete for the first choice spot … or a youngster that could mature into a top player. Cedric doesn’t tick either of those boxes.
Elneny, Leno, Suares, Mari, Auba
Rocky, I agree but I would move Willock up to fine and Soares, Willian down to questions.
This is so perfect, we will really get to see how good Smith Rowe is, if he can turn this pile of …… into a winning side we will be sure the hype is justified.
Willian, waste of space.
So, ESR ones touches passes with Pepe down the right until Pepe decides he needs to slow it down, and take a million touches to make something happen.
That’s the issue in a nutshell Aaron
Willock is having a bit of a mare.
‘fraid so Redders.
Also, Auba does not work as well as Laca as a central front man. If we want to win this we need to bring Laca on and resume the Laca-ESR-Saka-Tierney show.
Well I hope AMn doesn’t think like you LB
Where is AMN actually position ? Is it really further up the pitch personally I think not and in our current squad who will he actually disposes
Yes although he mighten want to be a Rb that probably his actually be his best position, even wolves wanted him for that position, his England call up is for that position
If he had actually decided he wanted to be a Rb would have had no need to buy soares and he would have been our official backup rb which would intern be our permanent Rb
Rocky I think you meant
Average – willian
Shit – willian
With Tierney’s quality with crosses it’s crazy we don’t have a striker who’s good in the air.
They were serious saves by Leno — brilliant.
Apart from that we have been poor as a team.
Rocky, @ 7:16
Could not agree more,
Thank goodness for VAR, think the Newcastle player should have been booked for the scream, also don’t let me hear Bruce moan about soft players because he was up screaming for it too.
And thank goodness for Leno, that was top quality goalkeeping.
Tierney best player to start, Pepe could be the most frustrating player since Gervinho but that’s being a little harsh on Gervinho.
Xhaka most influential of subs so far, ESR struggling to be found doesn’t help that he only has Saka to work off going forward, as passes to Pepe and PEA seem to spell end of attack.
Only sub worth calling for now is Laca for Pepe, put Saka on right and PEA out left. Either that or force Pepe onto left wing and Saka on right at least there is more chance of Saka scoring from that position than Pepe and Tierney can provide the crosses Pepe can just be cut out.
Glad you mentioned Xhaka GiE – he’s been very good.
Mikel got the message GIE
Ok Laca for Pepe finally.
Last sub (if we still have one) more Maitland-Niles for anyone just for penalties.
That’s where the magic happens.
Cracking finish young man.
Also top work to actually stay alive to create it and good desire shown by Laca.
Tierney’s crossing almost make it impossible not to score.
Aubaaaaaa. Nice through ball by Xhaka, perfect square by Tierney and Auba does what he does best on that type of service.
Earlier in the season when Arteta was talking about putting crosses in the box, I think that’s what he wanted. Getting to the by-line and cutting the ball across is lethal. Fantastic ball from Xhaka, and an equally impressive ball from Tierney.
We deserved to win the game and 2-0 seems about right.
The ‘replacements’ did nothing to demonstrate that they should be in our first choice line-up.
ESR, Saka and Laca made the difference when they came on (with a big contribution from Xhaka).
Wonder if we could swap willian for giroud
Well it’s good to have affirmation of our best 11 … I’m afraid that doesn’t include Pepe or Willian, but the 11 we do have reinforced with Gabriel and Partey should be good enough to get us in a European place.
Did you think Xhaka played well then? 😳
I have to agree he has put in some better games lately, and in this wobbly team performance he did give a more responsible contribution from the midfield. 👍
I thought Xhaka had as a good a game as I’ve seen him have in a while (comparable with his performance against Chelsea).
What really struck me – and I was watching very carefully – was how (despite how slow he is across the turf) his touch, quickness of thought and decision making were all streets ahead of Willock’s.
He definitely does better as the more forward of the two holding midfielders (with Ninny behind him). His worst performances tend to be when he is tasked with being the main defensive mid.
Could we do better than Xhaka in central mid? Of course, but when he plays like this he is an asset.
Totally agree about Xhaka. His contribution is far better when he’s not the last midfielder. I also think that his history goes against him and every single touch is analysed in comparison to others in the team who can get away with some sloppy play.
There are better midfielders available, but he’s certainly not as terrible as some make out.
RA and Rocky you raise an interesting point, I too felt Xhaka had a better game today, certainly better than Willock, but Willock had Willian, Nelson and Pepe, Xhaka had ESR, Saka and Pepe. That certainly helped his influence. But I also have to ask where he will play when Partey is fit? In the games he has played he certainly didn’t look the type to be a defensive midfielder, and was more than capable of running with the bal through the midfield so what happens to Elneny and Xhaka?
I’m not yet sure what Willocks role is, not a number 10 not a long passer or a defensive midfielder, is he a David Platt type that will just score goals box to box type, that seemed what Arteta was asking him to do today and Elneny was trying to help him through it. Maybe without Willian in today’s line up he could play the left flank?
Exactly, for the first time Xhaka has some serious competition for his place in the form of Partey.
It is such a shame that Martinelli got injured we would have seen exactly what Willian is about. I know and understand that many have already made up their minds but Willian was playing with Nelson who flattered to deceive again, Pepe who is sub Gervinho (which is hilarious) and Aubamayang whose running with the ball is sub Pepe. You can of course spin this around and I would not blame anyone for doing so.
Why I am still entertaining the idea that Willian has something to offer this team I do not know but the whole thing is hanging by the slimmest of threads in my mind.
It also makes me wonder how much more time Mikel Arteta is prepared to give him.