Rest, Rotate and Prioritize the League or Put Out a Strong Team as History Beckons?
We could probably put this question to both managers as they approach this one.
With League matches looming–Sunderland manager Sam Alardyce has been very critical of the decision to schedule a mid-week fixture directly after the 3rd round cup matches, and has suggested he’ll have to field a weakened team–we have to be careful here. Is Alardyce playing mind games or playing the biggest mind game of them all: speaking the truth?
Do we need to worry about Sunderland–a team we rather squeaked by in the league just over a month ago–and couldn’t beat on our home ground last May–or do we assume Alardyce really does have bigger fish to fry?
Your guess is as good as mine. What do you think?
Is this one a chance for youth or should we play our top guns to try and get the result as methodically as possible with steely eyes focused on Wednesday at Liverpool and Sunday at Stoke City?
Moreover, is the FA Cup a trophy we should give our all to defend or should we see those two consecutive triumphs as important moments for the team but also as stepping stones to bigger prizes?
I don’t know about you, but my tendency is to want to have it all, and, given that it’s struggling Sunderland–at home–I say we should play a reasonably strong team and try to win the match in convincing fashion, ideally getting in some youth prospects for the final half hour to shore things up. I believe we have the squad depth to try this approach and the flexibility to respond to whatever situation arises as the match goes on.
Alardyce, I don’t think, has such latitude and, in fact, I believe he wants to make a strong point to the Football Association. Also, as he’s coming off a solid league win over Aston Villa, he probably has as much wiggle room as a manager of a club in the relegation places will have until safety (or doom) is secured. As much as some title-obsessed Gooners might wish for a quick exit from this competition, Black Cat supporters know that they need their resources fully focused if they hope to avoid another dramatic survival campaign.
Ah, the romance of the cup… 😀
Coming into the league match vs Sunderland on December 5th Arsenal was teetering.
November had not been a kind month. Losing at West Bromwich Albion and the injury to both Francis Coquelin and his replacement that day, Mikel Arteta, was followed a week later with a draw at Norwich and more injuries, this time to arguably more critical players, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla. The squad was decimated and the season felt as if it hung in the balance.
Beating Sunderland on that day helped begin a remarkable comeback for the team, one which now finds us top of the Premier League table and still in the Champions League, albeit facing the most difficult of round of 16 opponents, the holders, Barcelona.
That match a month ago wasn’t easy, however, and plenty of Gooners must’ve been worried when we went to the half time break tied at 1-1. Goals by Olivier Giroud–one in each net, had our season on a knife edge. Luckily, 2nd half goals by Joel Campbell and Aaron Ramsey gave us some breathing room and the impetus to push forward from the November nadir.
Here’s the group Alardyce fielded that day:
Pantilimon, Coates, Kaboul, O’Shea, Toivonen, Van Aanholt, Yedlin, M’Vila, Fletcher, Watmore
Can he use a similar team? Must he dig deeper into his squad? He does have a few extra options who didn’t start that day. Jermaine Defoe is fit this time, as is Lee Cattermole. Adam Johnson, Jordi Gomez, Fabio Borini and Danny Graham are all well traveled attackers who, on their day, can put the ball in the net. If Allardyce goes for youth, surely Jermaine Jens must feature. When he says he must rotate to prioritize the league matches he might be giving some very hungry players just the opportunity they need.
- What about our team?
The big team news is that Alexis Sanchez will not be ready for this one (and will also not be available for the midweek match at Anfield). This might have been a great debut opportunity for new Gunner Mohammed Elneny, but his transfer from Basel FC has been held up over technicalities surrounding his work permit. A player we appear to have back in the fold is our Captain, Mikel Arteta, who successfully came through a 45 minute outing with the Under 21s in midweek.
So, we do seem to have some options, especially considering we have no injuries among the defenders and goalkeepers. How then does Wenger use his squad, keeping in mind the disastrous results too much rotation (particularly at the back) caused in the first couple of Champions League group games?
Notably, does David Ospina get another chance in goal? It’s a very tough call as the Colombian needs some sort of first team football and has been linked with moves away from the club. I think he will play as the last thing we need is an injury to our one big summer purchase, Petr Cech.
Cech is a big reason we’re top of the league. The other is the play of Mesut Ozil. He’s another AW would be foolish to risk, at least as a starter. Does he even suit up for this one and who will become the creative force in attack if he rests?
My hunch is that it’s got to be Aaron Ramsey, who will have to do his running-all-day best in the #10 spot. Theo Walcott, I think, gets to start up top as he did quite successfully before he went down with a calf problem in late October. My guess is that he’ll be flanked by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell, I think, while Olivier Giroud gets a much deserved spot on the bench. No full rest for the big man just in case we need goals. Remember, a trip to Sunderland for a replay (if case of a draw) is probably our worst case scenario.
Who plays deeper back is anybody’s guess.
I’m calling for nearly complete rotation. My team has Calum Chambers and Arteta in the deep-lying midfield spots with Mathieu Debuchy given one last chance to show he can play–either for us or for the host of teams who seem willing to make him a starting right back. Gabriel Paulista, who scored two matches ago vs Bournemouth comes in for the guy who rescued us a week ago, Laurent Koscielny. Kieran Gibbs in for Nacho Monreal completes my group.
Subs: Cech, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Reine-Adelaide, Iwobi, Giroud
That’s seven changes from the team which got past Newcastle a week ago in the driving rain. Some would go even further, giving starts to Jeff Reine-Adelaide and/or Alex Iwobi. Like I say, if we look comfortable, 20 minutes or even a half hour at the end might be a treat for one or both. Others, of course, might be more conservative in their changes, especially at the back.
These are just my ideas and thoughts about how we might try and sneak through to the 4th round draw while still being well prepared for the league matches. What say you?
Go on, please share. And go on you Gunners!!!