It’s a savory matchup for an FA Cup third round tie as fans are treated to what will be the second of three North London Derby’s this the season. When Arsenal and Tottenham were drawn against each other a few weeks ago, Gunners fans had a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, the potential of knocking out your bitter rivals from a tournament would be fantastic. On the other hand, it meant another match against a top tier club during crunch time of the season.
To make matters worse for the red half of North London, a number of key players are dealing with injury. Nicklas Bendtner is out with an ankle injury, while Olivier Giroud is most likely going to miss the match as well due to sickness. The British duo of Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs are still out with injury and Mesut Özil will face a last-minute fitness test to see if he’s recovered from his shoulder injury enough to play.
This means Arsène Wenger must start either Lukas Podolski or Theo Walcott up top to fill the void his two injured strikers leave. Podolski will likely get the nod because Walcott’s speed would be better utilized out wide. But, unlike in the match against Cardiff City midweek, Wenger will have to dip into the academy squad for a backup striker, likely Benik Afobe or Chuba Akpom.
The other players injured don’t leave Wenger with as much of a conundrum because adequate depth is available in said positions. Nacho Monreal seamlessly replaces Gibbs while Mathieu Flamini and Jack Wilshere cover the absence of Ramsey and Özil. Again, depth past these starters, though, is the glaring issue for the Gunners in this FA Cup tie.
The Gunners must start the best possible squad against the Spurs for the sheer fact that the FA Cup is, right now, the most easily attainable trophy this season. With the Capital One Cup botched, a difficult UEFA Champions League tie against defending champions Bayern Munich upcoming and a Premier League title race where the top three are separated by only two points, Arsenal must make the FA Cup the priority this season.
With the selection of available players for Wenger to choose from, here’s what the starting XI is likely to look like:
GK: Wojciech Szczesny
DEF: Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielney, Nacho Monreal
MID: Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla
FOR: Lukas Podolski
Subs: Lukasz Fabianski, Thomas Vermaelen, Carl Jenkinson, Gedion Zelalem, Tomas Rosicky, Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom.
Whatever starters Wenger decides to field against his bitter rivals, he’ll need to make sure they’re good enough to win. While a loss in the FA Cup wouldn’t ruin the season, a loss to Tottenham in the FA Cup would definitely be a cause for some concern. However, a win would prove Arsenal’s ability to cope with the loss of players and still succeed in big matches.