It's back to FA Cup action for Arsenal tonight, as they play Leeds United in the replay of their third round clash. Following the home draw a week and a half ago Arsenal now have to travel to a team that are currently pushing for promotion from the Championship to the Premier League.
It won't be an easy game as Leeds are bound to have a partisan crowd behind them, in what is sure to be a full house. No matter how loud the Leeds fans are though, I still expect to hear the travelling Arsenal fans in full voice, as always away from home.
Arsenal should have won the home game, and they created enough goalscoring chances to do so, but in the end it took a last minute Cesc Fabregas penalty to earn them a replay. Even after that equaliser Arsenal had three good chances to grab a winner and they are now paying the price for missing those chances.
They could have had a week free of a game after Saturday's impressive victory over West Ham, but instead the players have to play for the sixth time already this month.
I thought that the performance against Leeds was nowhere as near as bad as the the one in the Carling Cup defeat to Ipswich last week and I hope the combination of those two results and performances will be enough to make the fringe players realise that they need to try harder when they get their chance.
In the earlier rounds of the Carling Cup the team was full of players that were seen as fringe players, but they still managed good wins over The Spuds, Newcastle and Wigan. The attitude that was displayed in those games needs to be displayed tonight, and against Ipswich next week.
There is bound to be some rotation tonight, and I had a detailed run through of the whole squad, and the possible team for tonight prepared, but sadly there was a problem with my storage of it, and it was all lost. I'll have to be brief in how I see tonight's team lining up, but here goes anyway.
Wojciech Szczesny will play in goal obviously, as James Shea has never played for the first team. I would expect Bakary Sagna to play at right back now that he has served his three match suspension, and Kieran Gibbs should be the other full back. There are only two fit first team centre backs in the squad, which means that Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny will both have top play again.
As I said yesterday I think Arsenal are taking a huge risk with the amount of games Djourou is being asked to play, but I don't know what other options there are until a new signing arrives, and Sebastien Squillaci returns from injury.
There is of course the chance that either Alex Song or Ignasi Miquel will be deployed in a central defensive role, but I would be surprised if that was the case. Miquel has never played for the first team, and it would be a very highly charged atmosphere for him to make his debut, and the last time Song played as a centre back he was shown up badly. Admittedly Leeds aren't exactly Barcelona, but if Song is to play I think it has to be in his best position, as a defensive midfielder.
In midfield I would hope to see either Song or Jack Wilshere play, and I expect that the boss will play Denilson along with whichever one of them he picks. In the advanced role ahead of that midfield duo I expect to see Tomas Rosicky possibly get the nod, but I would prefer to see Samir Nasri play there. I think that Nasri would have the guile needed to open up Leeds, while Cesc gets a much needed rest.
Rosicky has created virtually nothing in his games so far this season, and it must be almost a year now since he scored. I know his chances have been limited in that time, but despite the fact that he seems to play well, there doesn't appear to be an end product with him at the moment.
The attacking trio is the biggest problem for the boss, as Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh will all expect to play, but I think he can't pick Chamakh and Bendtner in the same team. They both have to be deployed in the central striking role, or not at all, and I think that Chamakh deserves a chance, after Bendtner was so poor against Ipswich.
If he plays with only one of those two I would expect either Roscicky and Nasri to play in the other wide role, depending on which one plays in midfield. I don't think that Bendtner can be played in a wide role, as Arsenal may as well play with 10 men as play him there in my opinion. All of this assumes that Arshavin will play, and I would be very surprised if he didn't.
There is of course also the possibility of Carlos Vela getting a run out, but he seems to be too far down the pecking order now, and he could well be gone out on loan very soon. With so many games lined up for Arsenal I hope that the players that go out on loan have a clause in their agreement that states that they can be recalled at any team if Arsenal need them.
One player who is back from a loan move is Aaron Ramsey, and while I don't expect him to start tonight, he might get a few minutes at the end if things are going arsenal's way. Hopefully his return will be complete, as it's now been almost 11 months since his leg was shattered against Stoke RFC.
That team has more than enough quality to beat Leeds, and it's a matter of application of that quality that will be needed. Arsenal need to win the right to play their football, by being up for the game, and playing at a fast tempo that the Leeds players will not be able to cope with.
This is a bigger game for Leeds than it is for Arsenal, and the Arsenal players need to make sure that the Leeds players don't take advantage of that fact by putting in a great performance to beat them. Leeds are going to have to work very hard to contain Arsenal, and it's up to Arsenal to keep playing for the whole 90 minutes if that's how long it takes to get the upper hand.
I'm confident that Arsenal can get a win tonight, but I hope it doesn't go to extra time, as the consequences of that to players carrying a knock can be very bad. The last thing Arsenal need is 120 minutes tonight, followed by a game at home to Wigan on Saturday afternoon. I think that Arsenal will put in a cup performance worthy of the team, and win by a 3-1 scoreline tonight, with Chamakh hopefully getting his name back on the scoresheet.
In other news Jay Emmanuel Thomas has joined Cardiff City on loan for the rest of the season, and hopefully it will give him the first team exposure he needs. He is a very talented player, and he needs to be playing first team football now, as reserve football is only hindering his progress. There have been questions about his application and attitude recently, but I hope he can put all that behind him and shine in a league that he's more than capable of doing very well in.
That's it for today.
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