Arsenal welcome Sunderland to the Emirates Stadium this weekend as they kickstart their campaign to win the FA Cup for a third year in a row.
The Gunners featured against Sam Allardyce’s side just over a month ago, putting in a hard-fought performance to come out as 3-1 winners.
But despite the victory looking convincing on paper, Arsenal fans know that this weekends fixture could go either way, with the FA Cup able to throw up a number of surprises.
Arsene Wenger has already stated he’ll be tempted into fielding a couple of younger players this weekend, and it’s rumoured that Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil may get a rest.
Given the current crop of players on offer, I’ve put together a starting eleven that is balanced in experience and desire, but most of all capable of progressing to the fourth round.
Goalkeeper: David Ospina
Sticking with the tradition of rotating goalkeepers for the FA Cup, we’re bound to see the Colombian between the sticks on Saturday afternoon. The last time he put on the gloves though, Ospina had a nightmare evening as Olympiacos put three goals past us. This time however he’ll be wanting to show Wenger he is a legitimate option in goal, and possibly show off to potential clubs willing to make a bid for his services.
Right-Back: Hector Bellerin
As much as we’d love to see Mathieu Debuchy step into the full-back position, his mindset is elsewhere as he looks to seal a loan deal this month. Bellerin has been exceptional this season, and another game won’t hurt the youngster. But with Calum Chambers being our only cover at right-back when Debuchy goes, will we see him start?
Central Midfield: Gabriel Paulista and Per Mertesacker
Yet again, there seems to be a reliability when Gabriel comes into the starting picture, and credit to the guy for having such patience. It’s games like these where he can really shine, and following their last partnership against Bournemouth, these two will be solid at the back. Something they need to be careful of is working with their goalkeeper at set pieces because Ospina reacts totally differently to Cech.
Left-Back: Kieran Gibbs
Having performed when he’s told to whilst coming on as a defensive back-up in several games this season, Gibbs has yet again been a reliable squad member. Despite not starting ahead of Monreal, the Englishman is settled in this team and has experience with all of his defensive partners. Willing to get forward as well as work hard to track back, Gibbs will be a valiant option on the left hand side with Alexis’ absence.
Central Defensive Midfield: Mathieu Flamini and Calum Chambers
An unconventional holding midfield partnership but one that could be important in the progression of Arsenal’s season. Against Bournemouth, we saw a brilliant display from Chambers and in order for us to get an understanding of his ability, we need consistency. Flamini has been a rock since coming in to cover the injured Coquelin, and now Chambers can have a go at pushing forward whilst becoming more of a creating midfielder.
Left-Wing: Joel Campbell
A player that is really starting to settle in amongst this side, and when he’s comfortable on the ball we see some of his best performances. If Campbell wants to seriously contend with Alexis, who returns in just over a week, then it’s games like this that he has to pull out something top draw, something that will stick in the minds of Gunners supporters.
Centre Attacking Midfield: Aaron Ramsey
I really would love to see this man playing through the middle once again, just like he did back in the season of his life in 2013/14. With the ever-rising abilities of Mesut Ozil, players like Ramsey haven’t had a look-in when it comes to this position, but Saturday afternoon poses the perfect opportunity. Ozil will likely be rested for this one, and its time for Ramsey to show us exactly what he can do.
Right-Wing: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
A man that is finding it hard to convince some of the Arsenal faithful he really does deserve a starting place in this team. But with a steady run of appearances behind him, we could see the Ox coming back into contention for a place on the right wing. With a confident Bellerin behind him, he can start to really have a go at a weakened Sunderland defence, and this is a perfect game for the winger to start.
Forward: Theo Walcott
Back into the familiar position of up top on his own, this is where Theo really loves to play his football and having shown us in last years FA Cup, he is more than capable. Not only will this option give Olivier Giroud a chance to rest up, we can also see a different way of attacking a side and show our versatility. Walcott offers us pace and agility, something that will be key to killing off this game early on.
How do you feel Arsenal should line up against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon? Let us know by commenting below!