Arsenal will begin to mount their FA Cup title challenge this weekend as the Gunners encounter Championship side Leeds United at the Emirates. The Football Association Challenge Cup was the last trophy Arsenal won back in 2005, and manager Arsene Wenger will be hoping to repeat those 2005 heroics in a bid to break their notorious five-year trophy drought.
Predominantly, until deep into the tournament, Wenger has utilized his fringe and youth players alongside some experienced campaigners, similar to the League Cup. With the Gunners encountering a Championship side rather than a big Premier League presence, it is certain Wenger will deploy more of a reserve squad.
Albeit, the current depth of Wenger's side is phenomenal and will enable the Frenchman to field a strong, dominating side, even if it is a second-string XI. However, not that Leeds will or should be taken likely; the Whites are enjoying an impressive Npower League Championship campaign after being promoted from League One last season.
Under the guidance of Simon Grayson, Leeds sit fifth in the Championship but are struggling for form, as they haven't recorded a win in almost a month. Arsenal young gun Sanchez Watts is currently on loan at Elland Road, and bizarrely has been given the all clear from the Gunners to play against his parent club.
Nonetheless, in what should be an exciting, attacking encounter of FA Cup Third Round football, the pressure is more on Arsenal to perform and conquer over an opposition beneath them. Let's predict the Gunners starting XI.
As is the trend with Wenger and the domestic Cup competitions, the Frenchman will utilize his deputy keeper instilling the first-choice shot stopper with a much-needed break. With predominant first choice keeper Manuel Almunia still sidelined due to a persistent elbow injury, boom youngster Wojciech Szczensy will receive another deserved chance whilst current first choice Lukasz Fabiasnki is rested.
However, another highly regarded youngster, Vito Mannone, has returned from a stellar loan spell at Hull City. The Italian was forced to end his tenure with the Tigers early due to injury, but whilst at the KC Stadium, Mannone impressed greatly and could be used as the deputy keeper on the bench.
Defensive leader Thomas Vermaelen has returned to training after a four-month absence due to a persistent ankle injury. This comes as a huge boost for the Gunners as the Belgium is a vital part of Arsenal's defence.
However, Vermaelen will not be available for the Leeds encounter, and it's likely imposing Swiss Johan Djourou won't feature either, as the 23 year old played mid-week in the 0-0 draw with Manchester City. Wenger is tentative to use Djourou on a consistent basis due to the severity of the knee injury the Swiss suffered last year.
This will ensure Sebastien Squillaci being recalled to the starting side in the centre half. The Frenchman is likely to continue his partnership with Laurent Koscienly; however, the former Lorient FC defender was also part of the side that faced City as well as the side that faced Birmingham City last weekend. Koscienly's consistent playing time warrants a rest, and the Arsenal faithful could see a budding young youth given a rare opportunity.
With highly-touted centre half Havard Nordtveit recently departing to German side Borussia Monchengladbach, it opens the door for reserve captain and promising centre half Ignasi Miguel to make his debut in the centre.
At right back, Emmanuel Eboue is certain to start. The deputy right back will be a constant figure in the FA Cup run as Bacary Sagna, who is unable to play in the encounter because of a suspension acquired mid-week, has the first choice right back role covered.
On the left, Kieran Gibbs has returned from an ankle injury and will make his return to the first team against Leeds. The Arsenal faithful will be praying the English international doesn't sustain an injury after repeated injuries this season.
None of the midfielders who featured against Manchester City are expected to feature for the Gunners, with Wenger expected to make straight swaps. Captain Cesc Fabregas will be replaced by Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky; the Czech will also don the captain's armband. Samba star Denilson will take on the defensive midfield reins from Alexandre Song.
In a huge boost of positive news for the Gunners, Welsh youngster Aaron Ramsey is set to make his first Arsenal appearance since February last year. The 20 year old suffered a horrific leg break last campaign against Stoke City. The Welshman was recently loaned to Championship side Nottingham Forest in a bid to return to peak fitness and rediscover his touch.
Ramsey has proven that he is a top-class midfielder with a big future, and fans, alongside Wenger, will be relishing the chance to utilize Ramsey again. However, will the former Cardiff dynamo still be the same?
Meanwhile, imposing Frenchman Abou Diaby will miss the clash due to an ankle injury.
Marouane Chamakh has been kept out of the Arsenal starting XI since the return of Dutch maestro Robin van Persie in late December. However, the Moroccan is certain to start as the lone forward for the Gunners with Andrei Arshavin on his left.
Who Will Conquer?
On the right wing, Nicklas Bendtner is set to receive a rare start and the Danish sharpshooter will want to impress in order to find more playing time. Boom youngsters Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Carlos Vela could feature, but there is heavy talk the pair are set to depart the Emirates on loan, which could see them miss the encounter.
With seven places on Wenger's bench, Vito Mannone looks to set to be the backup defender, whilst Johan Djourou is favourite for the backup defender. In the attacking department, Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott may all make the bench as backup cover in case things fail to go to plan for the Gunners. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Carlos Vela will hopefully be the deputy strikers.
Nothing beats FA Cup football, but can Arsenal reclaim the heroics of 2005?