Arsenal will look to field a side that includes both experience and youthful energy this weekend as they look make it 13 consecutive FA Cup victories.
The Gunners could retain the trophy for a third year, and will kick off their efforts as they welcome Sunderland to the Emirates Stadium.
A competition that holds so much meaning for players and supporters, both managers have vowed to mix up their squads a bit on Saturday afternoon.
Arsene Wenger has already suggested that Mesut Ozil may be rested for this weekend, after the midfield ace played a part in all of Arsenal’s festive fixtures.
Sam Allardyce has also insisted that he will be shifting his quad around this weekend, with one eye on next weeks must-win Premier League tie against Swansea.
The Gunners will be without star man Alexis Sanchez this weekend, after it was revealed the winger is being held back from making his return for precautionary reasons.
But Mikel Arteta is ready to come back in to the line-up after playing a good 45 minutes for the Under-21’s side on Tuesday afternoon.
Arsene Wenger also gave us a positive update on Thomas Rosicky, who will return to full training next week as the 35-year-old aims to get some minutes in before the end of the month.
Long-term absentee Danny Welbeck is just three weeks away from making a comeback after nearly a full year of not pulling on a Gunners jersey.
Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin complete the list of names on the sidelines as Arsenal continue to endure fixtures without some of their key names.
Despite having a near fully fit squad, Allardyce confirmed in his pre-match press conference that he will start one youngster, and have two or three on the bench.
Former Gunner, Sebastian Larsson, is still recovering from a knee injury and will be missed by a side who often relied on their set-piece specialist.
Also missing this weekend will be Younes Kaboul, after the centre back picked up a hamstring injury just before Christmas, and it is still unknown when he will return.
Joining the above duo on the sidelines are Jack Rodwell and Adam Matthews, leaving the Black Cats with a lack of reinforcements through the midfield.
One To Watch
Arsenal – Calum Chambers
Whether he starts in central defensive midfield or comes in to cover for the possible absence of Mathieu Debuchy, this weekends game is vital for Chambers. With a new arrival of Mohamed Elneny on the way, it’s clear that Wenger is concerned about the ability the youngster possesses.
However, this will be his chance to put on a display similar to the one he showed against Bournemouth, which should send a message back to the boss. Chambers will have his work cut out in this one, but if he lines up next to Mathieu Flamini then he’ll have freedom to push forward and try out a more attacking aspect of his game.
Sunderland – Jermaine Defoe
With two goals in his last game and nine overall in the season so far, it’s clear to see that the former Tottenham Hotspur talisman hasn’t fallen off the mark just yet. Defoe is no stranger to Arsenal fans, and despite his admiration for the Gunners he’ll want to make a serious impression at the Emirates on Saturday afternoon.
This is Sunderland’s best chance of grabbing a goal, with Defoe having years of experience in playing both on the break and as a solo striker, something the Black Cats will have to do. However, Allardyce may be tempted to rest his star man, with two massive games against Swansea and Tottenham coming up next week.
Predicted Line Ups
The Gunners are expected to come in with a very different looking side, making as many as seven changes as they prepare for another big fixture against Liverpool next week.
Sticking with tradition, we’ll see rotation in goal as David Ospina gets a rare call-up following his dismal showing in the Champions League against Olympiacos.
In defence, Mathieu Debuchy will re-focus his attention on the game as he looks to wrap up a loan deal before the window closes at the end of the month.
Also coming in will be Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs, who are both more than capable of putting in a performance and showing they deserve a starting place in the Premier League.
With the ability to rest Mathieu Flamini, we will see a defensive duo of Calum Chambers and Aaron Ramsey, which will allow the Welshman to once again progress into a more attacking role.
The front three hold a wealth of pace and agility, but lack the ability to win the ball back once it’s lost. Youngsters Alex Iwobi and Joel Campbell will target the wings, whilst The Ox gets a rare chance to assert his dominance in central midfield.
Theo Walcott completes the lineup in the forward role, and after his showing in last years competition he’ll want to show Arsene Wenger there’s no need to purchase another striker this month.
Predicted XI: Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Chambers, Ramsey, Campbell, Ox, Iwobi, Walcott
According to reports in the North East, it seems the youngster that gets the nod for tomorrows game will be 21-year-old shot-stopper Jordan Pickford.
A familiar partnership of Wes Brown and Sebastian Coates will offer some protection for the inexperienced goalkeeper, and Theo Walcott will struggle to win many headers.
With a limited amount of options in midfield, it’ll be up to former Arsenal target Yann M’Vila to organise their attacking progress, and he’ll have his work cut out in pushing through their counter attacks.
Up top their couldn’t be more of a contrast, and Allardyce will want to use the form of Jermaine Defoe to try and inject some life into mis-firing Danny Graham.
Predicted XI: Pickford, Yedlin, Brown, Coates, Van Aanholt, M’Vila, Gomez, Watmore, Toivonen, Graham, Defoe