New Year, same problems? Well, that certainly feels like the mood surrounding Arsenal at the moment following a week we all wish we could forget.
The Gunners might have rescued a point down in Bournemouth on Tuesday night, but reactions from the likes of Alexis have caused tension amongst the ranks.
As well as that, Wenger is sweating over another injury crisis after revealing Lucas, Alexis and Koscielny all picked up knocks during the 3-3 draw with the Cherries.
However, Saturday afternoon provides these players with a chance to repay the travelling fans by swiftly booking their place into the fourth round of the FA Cup.
We all know the boss loves this competition and he’s bound to make multiple changes to freshen up the side, but this will in no way be an easy test for any of them.
Preston have got nothing to lose and with Arsenal travelling to a venue that loves to make noise for any of their visitors to endure, the Gunners won’t be given an easy time.
Danny Welbeck is in line for a place on the bench after recovering from an eight month injury to his knee, Wenger says the striker is determined to get back to his best.
The news takes a tumble however, with Mesut Ozil still not 100% from the flu he’s been suffering over the last couple of weeks that left him out of the Palace and Bournemouth games.
Lucas Perez picked up a kick in the final stages of Tuesday’s game, so he’ll be tested late in training to see if he can feature in the centre forward role.
Koscielny, Alexis and Hector Bellerin are likely to be handed a rest after playing the game with knocks the other night, whilst David Ospina will come straight into the starting XI.
Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka stand as Arsenal’s only fit, senior central midfielders so Wenger may feel like he will try and throw the young legs of Jeff Reine-Adelaide into the picture.
Arsenal Absentees: Mertesacker, Cazorla, Coquelin, Debuchy, Ozil, Alexis, Koscielny, Gibbs, Walcott (doubt), Lucas (doubt)
It’s likely to be a tough selection for manager Simon Grayson, who has near enough his entire squad available to welcome the Gunners.
John Welsh and Calum Woods will be the only injured players to deal with for this one, meaning there’s plenty of options on the bench should things go pear shaped on the day.
The once highly-rated Jermaine Beckford will also sit out, the striker remains suspended after picking up a red card for fighting with his own teammate.
Preston are likely to come out fighting and will take confidence in seeing how Arsenal crack under the intense pressure a high line can cause them.
The likes of Paul Gallagher and Aiden McGeady who both have top flight experience will be likely to start after coming back into contention. Both were rested during their previous fixture against Burton.
Preston Absentees: Welsh, Woods, Beckford
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ospina, Maitland-Niles, Gabriel, Holding, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Reine-Adelaide, Lucas
Preston (4-4-2): Lindegaard, Baptiste, Clarke, Wright, Cunningham, Gallagher, Pearson, Johnson, McGeady, Makienok, Hugill
After putting the nightmare week in December behind them, Arsenal remain unbeaten since Boxing Day, meaning they’ve got a nice bit of confidence behind them.
With many injuries to deal with, this is a great chance for this starting XI to show they have what it takes to be trusted in a crucial run of games in the Premier League.
The Gunners have only suffered three defeats in the league but as we all know, are questioned mentally when coming up against lower ranked opposition.
If they want to ensure there are no more slip ups, then starting this one strong and bullying Preston off the ball will help because the crowd will most definitely be ready to play their part.
Preston North End
They might be sitting in 11th place in the Championship, but by no means have Preston had a poor season up until now.
They’ve only lost two games in their last 10, and if that wasn’t enough they stand as one of the sides who have managed to bounce back from a poor beginning of the campaign.
It’s hard to judge what sort of side will turn up on the day, because as good as they are at scoring goals, Preston are equally as bad at conceding them – boasting a goal difference of just ‘one’.
Prediction: Preston 0 – 2 Arsenal
I think this will be straightforward for the Gunners providing they get the right mix of youth and experience into the starting XI.
With big names missing it’s time for the rest of the squad to step up and be counted, but that will all come down to how they start the game at a stadium that breathes football.
It’s the FA Cup, and excuse me for the cliche, but anything can happen!
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