How do you go from a thrashing in the Last 16 of the Champions League to a 5th Round FA Cup tie against a non-league team? The change of surroundings is so jarring you can’t help but worry about the team’s mind-set going into the game. Arsenal and Sutton United may be a world apart, but if we fail to apply ourselves correctly the unfamiliar surroundings of the Borough Sports Ground could be very uncomfortable.
You like to think we wouldn’t slip up against a team 17th in the National League but, well, it’s Arsenal and their capacity for screw ups cannot be underestimated. Losing to Sutton United really would be a pathetic way to end the season – and I mean “end”, because after Wednesday night’s horror show the FA Cup is the only prize we have left to play for.
I mean no disrespect to Sutton United, of course. Their excitement when the draw was made was heartening in its purity. This is what the FA Cup, as we’re lead to believe, is all about. A David vs Goliath contest where the little guys have a rare opportunity to test themselves against one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the country. For Sutton, progressing at Arsenal’s expense would be incredible. For many of their players, simply having the opportunity to play against Arsenal is amazing. You can be sure that they’ll make the most of the occasion.
Arsenal, then, have to be the party-poopers. Only Arsenal fans will want them to win on Monday night. Whatever hang-ups they have after the Bayern game, and whatever the players are feeling about Arsene Wenger, they have to be fully focused on this game. As Wenger said, “The FA Cup is one of our targets. It’s the next game and for us to bounce back after the game we just had, it becomes a very important game. But it always was, in my head.”
The last thing we need is players strutting about thinking it’s an easy win, because that will only encourage Sutton. Their recent form – three consecutive away defeats, including a 5-0 defeat against Boreham Wood – can almost be disregarded because they’ve had this match in their minds the whole time. I expect we will be up against a fired-up and competitive team. Our own levels of effort and competitiveness cannot be any less.
On which team he will put out, Wenger said, “In my head I have had a team that will start and play there, for a week or 10 days now. That result we had at Bayern Munich will not influence that selection.”
To me, that sounds like it’ll be a mixed team again, as it was against Southampton and Preston. Although we have no mid-week games to worry about, I expect Mesut Ozil and Alexis will have time off once again. This would certainly please Sutton manager Paul Doswell, who claimed that a team sheet with Ozil and Alexis on it would give them zero chance of winning.
Laurent Koscielny will certainly miss the game after he went off with a hamstring problem on Wednesday night. Petr Cech will likely be left out as well as Ospina takes over cup duties once more. Otherwise, I think it’ll be a full squad, with Maitland-Niles and Reine-Adelaide coming in to fill any gaps. We could also see the return of the BFG, Per Mertesacker, after his knee injury.
As for Sutton, former Gunner Craig Eastmond has finished a three-match ban just in time to play against his old club. Ben Jefford, Jack Jebb and Craig Dundas are cup-tied and will miss the game. Another former Arsenal player, Roarie Deacon, is the one to look out for.
This will certainly be a unique experience for Arsenal. They’ll be playing on an artificial pitch in front of just 5,000 people. Winning it would only mean progression to the next round. Losing it would be an embarrassment of historical proportions, one that nobody associated with the club needs right now. So fingers crossed we turn up, get the job done with minimal fuss, and keep our season alive.