Welcome back to the FA Cup. If you are like me, you continue to love this cup competition.
Not only because Arsenal are the current Cup holders and have a long winning history in it, but because of the nature of the knock-out style format, the chance to potentially see more players from the squad, and the slate of matches all weekend long featuring teams from the various divisions. Yes, as the Cup progresses it switches from pulling for the upsets (except when they play Arsenal) and into mostly top Premier League side battling it out, but the Fourth Round still has plenty of magic heading into the weekend.
Thirty-two clubs remain, including two from League Two and Chorley FC from the National League North (the sixth division). In fact, if Chorley can upset Wolves, Arsenal may be heading there for the Fifth Round. But first, the Gunners travel to face Southampton. The Saints saw off League One side Shrewsbury Town 2-0 last round. Arsenal will be back at the St. Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday for a Premier League match, so how might Mikel Arteta use the squad across the two games?
Arsenal have made progress on reducing the size of the senior squad this January window. Mesut Ozil and Sokratis have exited and third keeper Matt Macey joined Hibernian this month. With a limited injury list (which hopefully continues) and a few January transfer targets, might we see more exits? If Mustafi is sold, I’d expect Chambers to remain and vice-versa. I can’t see Arsenal letting 3 CBs go this window with Saliba back out on another loan. The other name that we may see move could be a half-season loan for Reiss Nelson, who hasn’t found significant playing time while watching fellow youngsters Saka, Willock, and Smith Rowe have continued to step forward this season.
For now, we can focus on the primary contributors in this squad and the upcoming FA Cup tie this weekend.
Emile Smith Rowe
- Left Out: Dani Ceballos, Reiss Nelson, Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi & Cedric Soares
- Out: Pablo Mari (calf issue)
Just like with the Newcastle series, I’d expect both squads to rotate to a 2nd string or 1B lineup for Saturday and then return to their first choice selections on Tuesday for the Premier League. Luckily Arsenal have plenty of options if Arteta wants to heavily rotate.
- I’ve brought in a brand new front six. Pepe, Willock, Willian, Elneny, and Martinelli seem like safe picks for Arteta to bring in — even if those who played in the last FA Cup failed to find the breakthrough. Up top, it’s time we see Eddie Nketiah again, or else potentially consider that the club is looking to loan him for the back half of the season. The last time Eddie started was a month ago in the loss to Everton. The last time he scored was on December 10th against Dundalk.
- In the midfield, I’d consider Partey and Xhaka as the starters for the next Premier League match. Toss in Ceballos once fully cleared as the primary options for the midfield duo moving forward. Thus it makes sense to start Elneny and Willock once again in the Cup. If the team is struggling any of those three can be brought in during the second half or push Willock into the #10 role if one of the attacking line is having an off night.
- The backline brings up some interesting selection choices. First, Leno, Maitland-Niles as the backup left-back, and giving Gabriel a start seems fairly straightforward. His center-back partner? With Mari out and wanting to save Holding for the league match, will Arteta give Chambers (one start and one substitute appearance since his return from injury) the surprising start? Or is Mustafi still in contention and expected to stay at the club for the remainder of the season, despite being left out of the squad this entire month? If both answers are no, I’d favor using David Luiz once again over Holding.
- Could we see Bellerin start after being on the bench the last match? Or will Cedric get two starts in a row? It was one of Cedric’s better halves as Arsenal closed out Newscastle on Monday, but you’d have expected Cedric in the Cup and Hector in both league matches. Or perhaps Bellerin just needed a rest and will start both games against Southampton. For now I’m opting for the last option.
- That’s a very attacking bench, with any of those, minus Runarsson, options to start. But looking at the lineup, bench, and short injury list, it goes to show just how many players Arsenal still have. Five senior players still miss out despite the expanded bench, which should lead us to expect more departures before February 1st.
How to watch
Saturday (1/23) at 7:15 am ET / 4:15 am PT on ESPN+.
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