Arsenal need a morale-boosting victory when they go to face Portsmouth in the FA Cup fifth round clash at Fratton Park tomorrow (Monday) — and coach Mikel Arteta may well send for the youngsters to increase the likelihood of a win.
The Gunners would have been left flat as a pancake after the agonising 2-1 defeat in the Europa League against Olympiakos at the Emirates Stadium — a result that meant the tie ended 2-2 and the Greeks went through on away goals in the last 32 game.
Now they very much need a win and Arteta could well opt to play starlets such as Gabi Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah to lead the line for the visitors. Alex Lacazette is definitely out of sorts. Yes, he got the only goal of the game in Greece when the north London giants won 1-0 in the first leg. And, yes, he did score in the 4-0 Premier League win over Newcastle a couple of weeks back.
But prior to that game he had gone nine matches without a strike. He looked a shadow of his former self against the Greeks and certainly appeared to be a striker low on confidence. Arteta has options going forward. Martinelli and Nketiah both fit the bill; they are hungry, sharp and could revel in the chance to lead the charge against Kenny Jackett’s League One side.
Arteta is bound to shuffle his pack and no-one would be surprised to see Lacazette dropped, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rested and one or two other changes — perhaps in midfield we’ll see Mattéo Guendouzi come in to freshen things up. The Gunners boss will also have one eye on the next Premier League fixture; Arsenal host West Ham United on Saturday (March 7) and need three points from the clash with the Hammers if they are to try to make a push to improve their league standing.
Of course, Aubameyang may be desperate to play to get the defeat to Olympiakos out of his system. He scored a wonder goal then missed a sitter at the death to leave Arsenal frustrated. The point hasn’t been lost on Arteta. He said:
“Aubameyang was gutted. Obviously, he scored a wonder goal that almost put us through, and with the last kick he had the best chance of the game and he felt responsible about that. We’ll try to be right behind him. He’s been phenomenal all season for us and now the players have to support him, we have to support him.”
Whatever the head coach decides to do, he will be reminding his charges that Pompey are pushing for promotion to the Championship (they are in third spot with 59 points and five points behind leaves Coventry City) and could prove a tough nut to crack.