On Saturday, Arsenal host Newcastle in the FA Cup 3rd round, with the Gunner surely hoping long term for another brilliant FA Cup run. It was our success in this competition last season, which effectively went some way in rescuing one of our worst ever seasons to keep us in European competition. However, that is not to say Arsenal can afford any kind of complacency against Newcastle. They are a tough Premier League side and certainly not the easiest opening fixture we could have hoped for.
That being said, I believe Arsenal should field a fairly strong team. I’m sure many players will be rotated for this match, as we will still largely be focused on continuing our climb up the league table. However, I still think Arsenal should play enough senior players to get the result in this one.
Starting with the keeper, I would definitely keep Leno in the starting 11. To an extent I feel bad for Runarsson; one bad game and people seem to have decided on him not being good enough. If I were Arteta I would have afforded him more chances in the EL group stage, all of which were games we won fairly comfortably. From this point onwards in the season, Arsenal will undoubtedly want to go on an FA Cup run, they’ll be looking to go deep in the EL and will obviously still try to qualify for Europe via league position. Meaning there are far fewer opportunities for Runarsson to prove himself. Unfortunately, I am joining that bandwagon at least for this game and want to see Leno between the sticks; our defence are a lot more comfortable with him behind them.
The backline is an opportunity to rest some key players without sacrificing a huge amount of quality. I would like to see the same centre back partnership as we have in recent days between Holding and Mari. I certainly would not force Gabriel back if he is not sharp enough, though perhaps he ought to be on our bench to pick up some minutes ahead of returning to Premier League action. (By the way, Gabriel and Partey returning to our first team at the same time is going to be massive for us). At left back I would keep Tierney in the side; if we had a natural LB to fill in for him I would play him instead, however with Kolasinac out on loan at Schalke, I would stick with Tierney here though. On the other side, at right back, I think it is the perfect chance to see AMN given some more time to prove himself at right back. He has replaced Bellerin a few times now off the bench, so let’s see what he can do for 90 minutes. I think it’s time we start actually instigating some competition with 3 quality right backs at the club, rather than letting Bellerin know that the spot will always be his no matter what.
In the midfield, even though Partey is back in full training, I would not have him in the starting lineup. I think partly to protect Partey, and partly to reward the likes of Xhaka and Ceballos for recent games, I would keep Partey on the bench for this one. Xhaka in particular has put in some incredible performances recently, compared to his form prior to and during the Burnley game. People can tell me that Xhaka plays like this every week and that any criticism of him is unjustified but this isn’t true. The thing with Xhaka is he is a leader on the pitch who takes the responsibility to pick the ball up off the defence. Any player who is that heavily involved in our play, if he is having an off day it can derail an entire match. Luckily, he hasn’t put a foot wrong or had an off day in the last few games and long may that continue.
Further forward, I think this game is a great chance to give Saka a rest and Pepe another chance. Saka is still my preferred option at RW, but he has played so much football this season. In certain games we need to manage him and protect him. And Pepe deserves some game time too. He put in some great performances in this competition last season and I still want to see more of a sample size of his link up with AMN down that right side. Pepe was struggling when the whole side was struggling for confidence: now we have that confidence back, perhaps we will see the best out of Pepe. In that number 10 role I’d continue with ESR. He has been excellent recently and a huge part in our change of form. However, unlike Saka, he hasn’t played an abundance of football this season and is actually still in need of building up fitness and sharpness. As such, I don’t see a need to rest him here. The same goes for Martinelli who I’d start on the left. This is a good chance for him to get a goal and at the same time give Aubameyang a needed rest.
And leading the line I’d go for Lacazette and I’ll use the same logic as Wenger did during the season we played Sanchez as a number 9. When a player is on this kind of form with 4 goals in his last 3 games and is our top scorer for the season so far, play him every game and let him keep that hot streak burning. The energy he’s helping bring to the team right now tells me he’s never been fitter and needs no rest at this moment.