Football Association Cup
Sunderland v Arsenal
Stadium of Light
Saturday 18th February 17.15
For the third time this season Arsenal face Sunderland, this time in the fifth round of the FA Cup. The two previous meetings ended in 2 – 1 wins for The Gunners with Thierry Henry scoring the injury time winner last Saturday. Sadly, the legend will already be back in the USA and so unable to help us into the sixth round.
With the return of Champions League football the fixture list is looking crowded so let us hope the boys can settle this tie without the need for a replay. It would be nice, also, to think that the Stadium of Light pitch will be somewhat less reminiscent of a Norfolk salt marsh than was the case last week.
We will have to wait and see whether Martin O’Neil’s side are prepared to attack a bit more or maybe they will again try to park the bus and hope for a lucky break to give them a goal.
After the Misery in Milan the FA Cup now represents our only realistic chance of winning our first trophy for what will otherwise be seven seasons.
Even thoughts of a top four finish need to be put on hold until after what could turn out to be a “season defining game”. Failure to progress into the quarter finals could see another meltdown as happened after the Carling Cup Final defeat last season. On the other hand a morale boosting win over The Black Cats would put the team into good heart for the upcoming North London Derby.
Szczesny looked somewhat shell shocked on Wednesday, but as the alternative is the unreliable Fabiansky our number one ‘keeper deserves a shot at redemption.
Although Sagna didn’t have the best of games against Milan he is the only realistic option and will remember to keep a close eye on Sunderland’s McClean, Gibbs who was unsurprisingly, given his recent return from a long injury lay-off, subbed should be able to complete ninety minutes and so allow Vermaelen to move to centre-back. His partner is a bit problematic in the absence of Meretesacker and Koscielny the options are Djourou, Squillaci or Song. Given his propensity for committing defensive howlers Djourou would be an almighty risk and Squillaci lacks both playing time and true class, I would prefer to see Alex Song in the back four. Yet again injuries dictate a mix-and-match defensive line-up.
Wednesday’s mid-field line-up displayed a few problems, Rosicky, Ramsey and Arteta are too similar in style to play together. Ramsey is probably the better defensive option but his distribution has been poor of late whilst Rosicky is more attack minded. In perming any two from three I’d go for Rosicky and Arteta alongside Coquelin but also add in Oxlade-Chamberlain to run at the Sunderland defence from deep positions.
Who else up front but van Persie but with Arshavin playing close behind him.
Sagna Song Vermaelen Gibbs
Oxlade- Chamberlain Arteta Coquelin Rosicky
Gervinho is back in the squad, Koscielny will be out for about a week with knee trouble, Meretesacker has had reconstructive surgery, on his damaged ankle ligaments, and will be out of action for some time, possibly the rest of the season.
Defender Phil Bardsely has admitted, in the Sunderland Echo, that the pitch at the Stadium of Light is in poor shape ahead of this Saturday’s FA Cup tie.
The FA Cup is a special competition as far as I’m concerned, one of my most enduring football memories was standing behind the goal, at Wembley, watching Charlie George score the winner against Liverpool to complete the double. That was just six days after I had been in the crowd at White Hart Lane to witness The Gunners beat Spurs to win the First Division title. Ah! Happy Days!!