Arsenal travel to Elland Road for a fixture we could have done without. Nevertheless, it’s a game we have to play and must win.
I was not happy with the result in the original fixture but the performance of Leeds was commendable. They seem like a team from the same mould as Blackpool or WBA and their manager Grayson reminds me a bit of Holloway. I’d certainly prefer to see Leeds win promotion rather than some other team cut from the same cloth as Stoke or Hull. But that’s a discussion for another day. For now let’s just focus on their football.
If the first leg is anything to go by, we can be sure Leeds will offer some well organized resistance in this game. The hosts will press in the centre of the park and will make it difficult for Arsenal to open them up by covering the passing channels. The only way for the Gunners to break them down will be through high quality movement and quick passing similar to what we saw against West Ham in the last game. Pace down the wings will also help.
In attack, Leeds will rely a lot on the technique and intelligence of Snodgrass along with the pace and trickery of Gradel. I read that there were some doubts over the fitness of Becchio and that might prove to be a big loss for the hosts. I’m again looking forward to watching Sanchez Watt in action against a top side.
In fairness, Leeds have a good attack, but unless Arsenal gift them a goal through an individual mistake or unbalanced team selection, I don’t see the hosts troubling Szczesny in the Arsenal goal that often.
Arsenal will have to avoid conceding soft free-kicks or a penalty. If the Gunners can force Leeds to create from open play the Championship side is quite likely to come up short.
At the other end, Arsenal need an early goal. If they can get one it will force the hosts into adopting a more attacking set-up and open things up for our attackers. If the game is locked at 0-0 for a long period of if Arsenal concede first it could turn into a frustrating night. Hopefully, we will see more urgency – in passing, pressing, and movement off the ball – right from the start.
The fanatical home support might have an impact in terms of lifting their players. I’m confident our players can handle it after having played at many such venues. But the Gunners must be mentally prepared for extra effort from the home players. These things are not easy to see but they make a difference to the 50-50’s and can make a big impact on the momentum of the game.
Arsene will have to rotate a bit but I don’t expect wholesale changes. I won’t be surprised if he changes the full backs. Sagna should be fresh after his ban and Gibbs is good enough to take responsibility in such a game. Szczesny, Koscielny, and Djourou cannot be replaced due to the injury situation.
In the midfield I’d like to see Rosicky come in for Cesc in front of Wilshere and Song. I’m confident that midfield will be able to dominate this game. El Capitan has played a lot and could use a rest given the congested schedule in the coming weeks. Having said that, I’ll be surprised if Wenger rests Fabregas. Le Boss is more likely to bring Denilson in for Wilshere or Song.
No matter who Wenger chooses, I hope he picks two out of Song, Wilshere, and Cesc. That will give the midfield continuity and stability. Too many changes in midfield break the rhythm and affect the speed of passing.
Up front I’d like to see RvP and Walcott retain their places while Arshavin coming in for Nasri. There was a story that Nasri has been playing with a knock. If that’s the case it would seem sensible to have Arshavin in. Earlier in the season the Russian did well along with Walcott and I see no reason why those two cannot recapture that form.
Once again I’d like to see two of RvP, Nasri, and Walcott retained in the starting eleven. This way some players will get a rest but the team will not be weakened considerably. Similar rotations in the next two games can ensure that all the players get a regular break.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Wilshere – Walcott, Rvp, Arshavin.
I’d also have Cesc, Nasri, Bendtner, and Chamakh on the bench in case the game doesn’t go as planned.
Rotations are a necessary evil but Arsene must take early action if the quality of performance isn’t up to scratch. I think Arsenal have enough strength-in-depth to turn this tie around in the second half if the need arises but it should not be left till late in the game.
Based on my recent form I’ll stay away from predictions. Just hoping this will be an entertaining Cup tie with positive play from both sides.