As much as we need to win this game, our trip to Southampton in the FA Cup can also be seen as an excellent opportunity to rest some key players. Any player that does not feature in this clash will go into our league clash with the Saints with at least 8 days of rest since our 3-0 victory over Newcastle. 8 days of rest in this period of fixture congestion can be very hard to come by and could be hugely valuable to us as we enter a crucial couple of months for Arsenal.
In the remainder of January and all of February, we will face Southampton twice, Benfica twice, both Manchester clubs in the league, a tough trip to Leicester and some other awkward opponents in Villa, Wolves and Leeds.
With all of that in mind, here is how we should line up to ensure progression in the cup, whilst still resting some key players
Leno: As much as I feel bad for Runarsson, I simply don’t wanna risk playing him in a knockout competition. Especially one like the FA cup which Arsenal fans would love to see their side win for a record-extending 15th time
Bellerin: At RB, I basically want Arteta to select the RB he does not intend to play against Saints in our league clash. To me, I’d love to see Cedric given that responsibility, as such let’s see Bellerin or Ainsley used in this fixture. Both of whom can still do a fantastic job and help us progress
David Luiz: I would move Luiz over to his more comfortable RCB role to give Holding a much needed rest. Holding has played a lot of football this season, but Luiz has shown decent form recently. Enough to suggest that I’d be comfortable with him starting instead of Holding
Gabriel: With Mari’s absence we do need a left-footed centre back. I was surprised not to see this guy involved against Newcastle, but this resembles a great chance to build up some match sharpness. He has been out for the last couple of weeks with COVID, however is available again now and we need to start bringing him back into the first team
Tierney: As much as I’d love to afford KT a rest, he is simply too important to our team. We have to have a left footer at left-back. The quality further forward is not good enough to justify anything else
Partey: He is still in need of building up fitness. Therefore, I expect him to start but perhaps be taken off on the hour mark if needs be. Also, he would help us to win those midfield battles against an often tenacious Saints midfield.
Elneny: Xhaka has played a lot of football recently and Elneny has always been dependable off the bench. I don’t feel like we would miss out on too much if we rest Xhaka and use Elneny instead next to Partey in this one
Nelson: I’d give Reiss the nod over Saka in this one. You never can tell with Reiss whether he is going to be fit for the games. The website seldom references any injury, yet he often will have little niggling issues. But, if he is fit, I’d like to see him operate on the right hand side, getting forward and getting good crosses in. Saka needs to be managed
Pepe: Interestingly, I would start Pepe in that ESR role behind the striker. Smith Rowe has been thriving in that position because of the freedom it allows him. Now let’s see what Pepe is made of. Everybody makes excuses for him when he plays on the right because he starts too wide etc. Well, behind the striker he will have the freedom to float around that final third and hopefully cause problems where he smells the potential to do so. It clearly hasn’t been working recently on the right, so why not try something different. Worst case scenario, we can change it around at half time
Martinelli: With Auba slowly picking up some form again, I think he is likely to keep his place on the left for our league games. As such, I want to see Martinelli get some more minutes on Saturday. His pressing is brilliant. His energy is superb. Once he gets a couple of goals, he will be ready to kick on and start really challenging Auba over the remainder of the season
Balogun: This one is a bit risky, but we need to manage Lacazette. He has played a lot recently and at a high intensity. I’d certainly have the Frenchman ready to come on if Balogun isn’t working out, but I feel like he would do a good job. From what I’ve seen from Balogun, it’s his link up play and ability to lay it off and then move in behind which is really good. Similar qualities to Lacazette actually. With Martinelli, Pepe and Nelson all running off of him, we may see a top performance. Beyond this, we need to start proving to him that Arsenal is where he belongs. He wants to play for the first team, so let’s give him a chance to show that in a couple of years time, he can replace Lacazette and we do not need to spend big on a new striker. The emergence of Saka and ESR all had to start with the gaffer taking a chance with them. Let’s do the same with this guy