19th February 2016: FA Cup preview – Pondering our line-up for Hull

Happy Friday. So it’s Hull at home in FA Cup tomorrow afternoon as we look to keep alive our hopes of winning the competition for the third season in a row.

This fifth-round fixture against Steve Bruce’s side will also be the third year running we’ve played The Tigers in the Cup of course, having come from 2-0 down in 2014’s final to win 3-2, before beating them 2-0 at Emirates stadium in last season’s third round.

The visitors come into the game sitting pretty at the top of the Championship and will no doubt prove difficult opponents, but then, we’re unbeaten in 14 FA Cup ties, will be playing at home, have better players and are clearly strong favourites to make it third time unlucky for a Hull side who ought to be sick of the sight of us.

That said, in a similar vein to how he appraised Burnley before they played us in the previous round of the competition, Arsene Wenger explained why he rates tomorrow’s opponents as being top-flight class, when he spoke at his pre-game press conference this morning. He said:

They are in a strong position in the Championship, but the level in the Championship has gone up tremendously. We saw it against Burnley, you need a top-level performance to beat these teams. They are very strong because they have been together for a long time. Let’s not forget, if you go through their team they have all played together in the Premier League. They are all Premier League players, even on the bench. I consider them a Premier League team.

Which is true. Lots of Hull’s players have Premier League experience and in Abel Hernandez, they boast a striker who’s a full international with Uruguay and has scored 16 goals in 25 Championship games this season.

Hernandez was actually strongly linked with a move to Arsenal from his previous club Palermo, on the day we signed a certain Mesut Ozil at the end of the summer transfer window in 2013, so he’s a player Arsene evidently rates highly. Here’s what the boss had to say about the striker in the build-up to tomorrow’s game:

He has a strong body. His movement is very solid and quick – it’s good. He is a great finisher and has scored 16 [league] goals. He keeps Chuba Akpom out of the team, so he must be an exceptional player because Chuba is a great player. He is something we will have to deal well with.

Still, I fancy Per and Laurent or Per and Calum to keep him well shackled when we face him tomorrow, which brings me to how we might line-up. With Gabriel unavailable through injury and Koscielny a slight doubt, there’s a chance our central defensive duo will be Mertesacker and Chambers.

But with Mathieu Debuchy now out on loan – so he can play regularly but still not get picked for France because he’s past it and there are better alternatives for Didier Deschamps to choose from – we don’t have an obvious right-back to cover for Hector Bellerin, who we’ll presumably rest for Barcelona on Tuesday. Perhaps Mohamed Elneny could fill in or Mathieu Flamini even, but I’d much rather a player who’s more acquainted with the role. We’ll see.

Elsewhere at the back I think we’ll see Kieran Gibbs come in for Nacho Monreal at left-back and David Ospina for Petr Cech in goal. Further forward my guess is we’ll see Alex Iwobi, Flamini and Elneny forming a midfield three, with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott wide of Danny Welbeck up front.

That’s a very attacking and very pacey front four if we say Flamini and Elneny will be tasked to hold and protect our back-line, and also means we’d be resting almost all the players who I expect to start against Barca.

You’ll notice no Joel Campbell in there and that’s beacuse I have a hunch his work-rate and reliable link-play is something Arsene will want in his side against the Catalans, ahead of the more erratic, albeit more dangerous going forward, Chamberlain or Walcott on the right of our attack, so he might keep the Costa Rican on the bench.

Or I could be completely wide of the mark, Joel will play tomorrow and the boss will unveil an innovative selection for the Champions League in the hope of outwitting the reigning European champions. We’ll find out soon enough I guess.

Back post-match.

COYG!

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