With our league hopes suffering a battering of late, we welcome the return of the FA Cup as we take on Nottingham Forest in the 3rd round.
We are the holders, and as we also hold the record as the most successful FA Cup team – ever – we need to make a good stab of defending it. The first hurdle is this tricky tie.
Our recent Carabao Cup tie against fellow Championship outfit Norwich shows that we cannot afford to take Forest lightly, as we only just squeezed past the Canaries thanks to a brace from Eddie Nketiah.
Forest aren’t in a good place however. They recently sacked their manager, Mark Warburton, and it will be caretaker manager Gary Brazil that will oversee their attempt to cause an FA Cup upset.
Their last game was an admirable draw with Leeds United, but they are languishing in the bottom half of the Championship table and even at this halfway stage, they are in danger of either having nothing to play for – or getting sucked into the relegation mire.
They have some quality in their ranks in Michael Mancienne, Eric Lichaj and Liam Bridcutt and they also boast top flight experience, but Gary Brazil could opt to rotate his squad and concentrate on improving his side’s standing in the league, crazy as that may seem.
Rotating is something we must do, after a frenetic run of games recently. It demands we rest some of our men as there are a fair few that have played the majority – and some of our fringe players who have played precisely zero minutes and are gagging for some action.
With Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Mesut Ozil, Alexis and a few others having the lions share of the many minutes of gametime in offer in December – we played nine games in all – some of our lesser lights with much to prove have a great opportunity to send a timely reminder to Wenger that they are still of use.
David Ospina should come into the side to take the gloves, and in defence there will be changes too. Mathieu Debuchy, Mohamed Elneny and Per Mertesacker are three that could comprise our backline, but it is all dependant on whether we play three or four at the back.
Reiss Nelson could take a full-back spot, and in midfield, Francis Coquelin and Jo Willock could do a job in containing Forest and put out any fires.
In attack, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi are suffering from a dip in confidence, so a full game and plenty of chances will do them the world of good.
Make no mistake, we all expect a comfortable win, but however we achieve it will be welcome. If it is another tight game but we achieve safe passage to the fourth round, then I’ll take it.
It’d be great to give players like Ben Sheaf, Josh DaSilva and Eddie Nketiah a good runout, but with our chances for silverware hanging on by a thread and only one bad match from disappearing in each competition, we need to prioritise. Cups need to be put
in the front of our view, as well as our Premier League position.
Basically then, we need to concentrate on every match. This is what our poor form has done. We have no breathing space, and every game must be given our utmost attention.
Forest must feel the force, and our second string must do the job, otherwise our first teamers will be suffering from exhaustion far quicker than we expect.
Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Debuchy, Elneny, Mertesacker, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck
Predicted scoreline – 2-0 to The Arsenal