29th January 2016: Next up, it’s the Clarets in the Cup

Happy Friday folks. So FA Cup fourth-round weekend is upon us and we’ll be looking to take a step closer to winning the competition for the third season running when we host Burnley at Emirates stadium tomorrow afternoon.

But despite residing a league lower in the Championship, Arsene Wenger has pointed out that Sean Dyche’s team has Premier League-class players, and cited our loss to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup earlier this season in suggesting Arsenal won’t be underestimating the Clarets. Speaking at his pre-match press conference this morning, the boss said:

I saw them on Monday night beat Derby 4-1 and I realised when I watched them that all their players played in the Premier League, we played against most of them. They have Gray up front who is very efficient, they have other players like Barton, Arfield, Boyd – they have all played in the Premier League. They have Vokes up front with Gray, they have good players. We know that we have learnt in the Premier League that the teams who have come up from the Championship, it is not like 10 years ago – they compete at the right level. We have learnt something this season, we went to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup and got quite a severe defeat. We have to show we have learnt from that. We have to be humble enough to accept that and to think it’s not because we turn up at the Emirates and play against Burnley that we will win the game. We have to earn the right to go through this round and qualify. If you don’t do that, we’ll have a bad surprise.

Joey Barton in particular, is a player we’ll have to guard against in my opinion. Not because he’s a good footballer or anything you understand. I mean, he may have been decent earlier in his career, but at 33, he’s clearly past his prime.

No, we’ll have to watch him because as a player, he’s a nasty, spiteful, mouthy bast*rd in the Diego Costa mould, who’s very good at drawing retaliation and getting opponents sent off (I’m thinking Abou Diaby at St James’ Park in the 4-4 draw in 2011), if he isn’t being dismissed himself for something, that is.

Of course, it’s still a game we’re strong favourites to win, even if we’ll be rotating our squad. And speaking of how we might line-up, Arsene revealed today that David Ospina will replace Petr Cech in goal but stopped short of confirming that Mohamed Elneny would be handed a full debut, or whether Francis Coquelin would come straight back into the starting selection following his injury layoff. He said:

I will make some changes, not many. We spoke about Elneny, maybe I will give him a chance to play. Coquelin I have to think about. I will play with a team that is a Premier League team. Coquelin gives us defensive stability in midfield so he will compete with the players we have in this area. Before he was injured he had a very good spell in the team and the results were good, including his defensive records. He is now in a position where he can compete again for his position. It is a possibility [that Elneny will start]. He is naturally a box-to-box player who is a bit more defensive-minded than your usual box-to-box midfielder, so he can play in several positions in front of the defence or go box to box. He has good technique, good vision, he is very mobile and agile.

You would imagine we’ll be a little cautious with Coquelin, given his importance as our number one defensive midfielder, so I’m guessing the Frenchman will start on the bench with Elneny starting as our defensive shield in front of the defence. Tomorrow’s team is more difficult to predict than it has been for a while now due to players returning from injury, but I’ll have a go anyway because, well, it’s quite fun:

Ospina; 

Chambers, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs;

Elneny;

Campbell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Sanchez;

Giroud

Per Mertesacker is of course suspended after his red card against Chelsea and he’ll surely be replaced by Gabriel. With Mathieu Debuchy’s future at the club still very uncertain ahead of the transfer deadline on Monday, I doubt he’ll be involved, so I’ve gone with Calum Chambers at right back, to give Hector Bellerin a rest.

Kieran Gibbs for Nacho Monreal at left-back is a given I reckon, and I’ve picked the same two attacking midfielders centrally, in the Ox and Alex Iwobi, who started there in the third round against Sunderland. I suppose Rosicky might start but given how long he’s been out injured, I’m guessing we’ll ease him back to competitive football with some minutes as a substitute.

As for who plays upfront, Olivier Giroud was sacrificed early against Chelsea after we went down to ten men and against physical Championship opponents, I’d be inclined to start him, rather than say give Theo Walcott the striker’s role.

Finally, on the the flanks I’ve gone with Campbell and Sanchez because the former would provide more defensive support for Chambers behind him than others, and Sanchez’s cameo last weekend, whilst impressive, suggested to me at least that he could do with some game time to regain match-sharpness.

Right, I’m done playing Arsenal Manager for now. Let’s see who the boss picks and how they preform come 3pm tomorrow.

Back post-match.

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