Arsenal continue our pursuit of a third consecutive FA Cup with another home tie, this time against a foe we’ve seen in each of the past two seasons: Hull City FC. Is it third time the charm for the Tigers or just another end to the dream at Arsenal?
Two years ago, of course, it was a full-fledged glory Hull were dreaming of. That was in the final at Wembley and, having staked themselves to an early two goal lead, the Tigers had every right to believe they might take down the bigger club and lift the cup. Arsenal fought back and goals from Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny forced extra time. In the additional half hour Aaron Ramsey rolled in the winner and Arsenal, for the first time in a decade, were finally able to lift a trophy.
A year ago, the finalists met in the 3rd round, a much different scenario. Hull manager Steve Bruce could see the writing on the wall and the fact that his team was in the midst of a relegation battle which would require their full attention and even more changes for his group than ours. Hull didn’t put up much resistance. A goal by Per Mertesacker on twenty minutes and one by Alexis Sanchez much nearer the end of the match were the only goals but the 2-nil scoreline probably flattered the visitors.
What should we expect this time around?
Both managers will want to advance, but not at all costs. Arsenal play in the Champions League eliminations vs defending champions Barcelona on Tuesday evening and will need to be fresh and ready for that one. Hull City are leading the Championship but are only three points clear of 3rd place Brighton and the playoff spots. As much as we’d like to believe in the romance of the cup, those other priorities will be in the minds of the men in charge.
As such, Arsene Wenger, I think, we’ll put out a team substantially changed from the one which gave a huge effort and came back to beat Premier League leaders, Leicester City, on Sunday. He’s a bit short of defenders, having had to replace Koscielny at half-time with Callum Chambers, Gabriel Paulista still recovering from a training ground injury and having no real cover for right back Hector Bellerin beyond Chambers. Kieran Gibbs–a hero in his own right from the Wembley final, having headed off the line what would have been Hull’s third early goal–probably comes in for Nacho Monreal on the left. Bellerin most likely has to go on the right with Chambers and Mertesacker as our center backs ahead of David Ospina in goal.
In midfield, Wenger has indicated that Mohamed Elneny will play and could start. Will he pair up with Francis Coquelin or Mathieu Flamini at the rear of midfield? Could Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain be shifted back into one of those roles? Further up, will Alex Iwobi get another go in Mesut Ozil’s attacking midfield spot? Does the Ox start on the right or does Joel Campbell come back in? What about Theo Walcott who looked very smart scoring vs Leicester as a sub on that side?
Walcott’s inclusion could also come up top in the #9 role, or does that one go to the other scorer, the last-minute hero from Sunday’s encounter, Danny Welbeck? Is Welbeck, after ten months out due to injury, fit enough to fill in for Olivier Giroud from the opening kick-off? It’s also possible that Walcott could be saved to play that role against Barcelona.
What about Alexis? Does the former Barcelona player need more time to find his shooting boots or would it be better to keep him champing at the bit before he plays against the club which sold him?
I suspect Wenger will play him for the first hour in this one and will encourage him to be a leader in getting the team off on the front foot. The last thing we need, after all, is a draw and a replay up in Hull. Here then is my best guess at Wenger’s starters and the subs who will suit up:
Subs: Macey, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Giroud
Hull should not be seen as any sort of pushover and Bruce could use this match as a challenge for his players. Which of them have what it takes to get his club back to the Premier League? Most likely he’ll use a combination of those with experience, including former Spurs Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore and Michael Dawson, along with a few younger players who might provide the spark for the run-in.
Mohammed Diame is another experienced player to beware. The physically imposing Frenchman (who plays his international football for Senegal) is one whom many Gooners wanted to (finally) fill Patrick Vieira’s shoes as our marauding defensive midfielder. He also scored against us on our pitch in a league match less than a year and a half ago. So too did Uruguayan forward Abel Hernandez slipped free from Mertesacker and headed home a cross from our left side.
In that one we came back to eke out a very late draw, Alexis putting in guess who: Danny Welbeck. Gooners would be far happier to settle this match early on rather given our big fight in the league and the huge challenge of playing Barcelona in the CL. Can we do it and continue on to the quarterfinals? How would you have Wenger rotate for this one? Please share…
Go on then…