So, Blackburn away – never a nice trip to make. A 1-1 draw this season was far less than we deserved but also more than we have got there in recent visits. Last season we went out in the FA Cup to a late Benni McCarthy strike after, in my view, Wenger underestimated Blackburn. He went with an understrengthed side that seemed to lack a cutting edge and we were duly dumped out of the cup. Tomorrow a similarly understrengthed team will walk out in the freezing cold at Ewood Park.
As we have seen in previous years Wenger has gone with a reserve side in the Carling Cup. This team has had two brilliant results: a 2-0 victory against a strong Newcastle side and a comprehensive 3-0 win up North at Sheffield United. These results give me confidence that this side can give Blackburn a real tough game, but will it be enough? Mark Hughes will go with his first team and it will be a really hard game for the Young Guns to win. They have power up front mixed with creativity and fight in midfield. Like last year – I fear they could end our cup run. However, saying this, the pressure is off for the players Wenger puts out – they may just want to prove the bookies wrong and lay down a claim for a more regular place in the first team.
I think Wenger will go with the team below:
GK: Fabianski – When he has played he has looked very solid and he has a real chance of pushing for the no.1 jersey on a permanent basis very soon.
RB: Justin Hoyte – He will be up for the fight and if Wenger wants to keep him, these are the games he must play him in.
CB: Phillipe Senderos – After such a bad game against Sevilla he has a hard job in this game and has to prove himself with Toure’s imminent departure.
CB: Alex Song – he has done well in this position in the Carling Cup – is this his natural position?
LB: Armand Traore - A real talent in the eyes of the coaches and fans – Bentley will test him and maybe this will develop his character and experience.
RM: Theo Walcott – His injury looks to have healed and all I would like Theo to do tomorrow is be positive and go at the defence time after time – and score!!.
CM: Gilberto/Lassana Diarra – Whoever plays has the job of protecting the back 4. Gilberto has a lot to prove and Diarra has to show why Wenger should keep him.
CM: Denilson - He has not been at his best this season but he has to be at his best in the creative role tomorrow.
LM: Abou Diaby – He had a great return from injury on Wednesday night and he has the ability to beat players with seeming ease – key player tomorrow.
ST: Nicklas Bendtner – Looking good recently with his hold up play and strength on the ball – can he get more goals?
ST: Van Persie – to start according to Sky Sports. Hopefully his apperance is preparation for Saturday and he comes through unscathed.
Our main creativity is going to come from Denilson and Diaby, maybe Walcott. They will have the job of turning defence into attack with their passing a pace. Denilson has great vision and if he can find Bendtner and Eduardo early they can get into good positions. Diaby will start on the left but by no means will he stay there. It is likely he will roam from here and try and get in and around the Blackburn defence. Van Persie will look to drop off the front man and his passing can give Bendtner lots of openings.
Santa Cruz will be the main threat to our defence. Blackburn were poor on the weekend but he nearly got them something from the game. Bentley will provide a constant supply from the right and the two centre backs must be alert all evening. Our wide players must track back to help the full backs aswell as their attacking duties.
This game is likely to be tough, there would be no shame to go out at in this tie but a win would be a big bonus. With a busy month coming up, I think Wenger won’t risk any of the first team and will tell the players, as I have said, that the pressure is off.