It’s that time of year again, the time where we begin our almost-annual defence of the F.A. Cup. Like last season, this year sees us enter the competition with an away trip to a Championship side.
Last year it was Preston North End and this year its Nottingham Forest, however, if last years’ game is anything to go by its not going to be the easiest game.
Going on the road to Preston, despite coming out on the winning side, we were 1-0 down at half time and had to rely on a last-gasp winner from Olivier Giroud to advance to the 4th Round where we smashed Southampton 5-0.
Last years’ cup competitions also gave us the chance to play our opponents for Sunday’s game, Nottingham Forest, early in the then-EFL Cup.
This match up, which was also played at City Ground saw us run out comfortable 4-0 victors. Granit Xhaka got on the scoresheet with a trademark rocket from outside the box, however, our other two scorers from that day, Lucas Perez (on loan at Deportivo la Coruna) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (sold to Liverpool in the summer) are no longer with us.
With this game coming against a relatively easier opponent, who haven’t won in five games and sit 14th in the Championship, rotation is expected for this game.
In his press conference, Arsene Wenger said:
“I will rotate a little bit cos we have come out of a very high loaded period because we played three big games in six days, twice away and we have to keep our level of focus and urgency because the 3rd Round is always very difficult especially when you play away from home against a Championship team.”
One player we might not expect to be blooded into the matchday squad on Sunday is our new signing, Konstantinos Mavrapanos. On the 20-year-old Greek defender, Wenger said:
“The plan is that he goes out on to play somewhere. It can be a German club – I’d prefer him to at the top level and gain experience.”
Focusing more on Sunday though, with injuries making the defensive depth almost wafer-thin, this could be a great opportunity to give Krystian Bielik a chance in the first team. The Polish defender/midfielder turned 20 yesterday and having half a season of Championship experience under his belt, this could finally be the time to put him into the first team.
Also, it’s probably likely that we will see youngsters like Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah in some capacity as they impressed in the League Cup and Europa League games they featured in.
However, it’s a wonder whether Sead Kolasinac will be back for Sunday’s game. With Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who has been playing exceptionally well, the only fit option at left wing back at the moment there may be a worry with playing in throughout this fixture-congested period.
Either way, Sunday sees us try to retain a trophy that we’ve almost become accustomed to winning, and hopefully we’ll be able to show Forest exactly why we’re the defending champions of the F.A. Cup.