The start of the FA cup journey begins for Arsenal in the Third Round against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. A club steeped long in English Football history and it’s always a wonder why they no longer grace the highest league.
Forest is definitely a club that linger in recent memory when you recall they knocked us out of the FA Cup a few years back in 2018. Weirdly the only time Arsene Wenger had tasted FA Cup disappointment against a team situated in a league below the Premier League.
It’s nice that there’s an opportunity for the Gunners to get some revenge for the old boss if we don’t consider the 5-0 pasting handed out to the club in the Carabao Cup back in 2019.
If we do go on to beat Nottingham Forest it could be a chance for the FA Cup gods to do their thing as it has been noted that every time we have beaten Nottingham Forest in the competition we have then gone on to lift the trophy each time. Yes, just the two times it has occurred but I’ll take it.
The most recent time was a match I actually remember attending as a young kid way back in 1993 with a saved ticket for the memory (yes, showing my age here).
Witnessing a classy Ian Wright double and taking in that amazing atmosphere provided by the recorded crowd sounds pumping behind the Mural that covered the North Bank whilst it was under construction. A surreal part of Arsenal history and I’m not sure it’s something that has been repeated by any other clubs when renovating their stadiums.
We’ve had a couple players represent Forest in recent times such as Arsenal super fan Carl Jenkinson and most recently Jordi Osei-Tutu who has just returned back to Arsenal this week from a loan spell due to an injury.
It will be interesting to know what type of team we will line up with against Nottingham Forest. It’s highly likely to be a very mixed experience team. We of course won’t be deliberately taking Forest likely but due to a combination of injuries, AFCON calls ups and potential Covid-19 infections there isn’t the luxury available to Mikel Arteta to utilise all the players he would like to use.
Yesterday the long expected loan move of Ainsley Maitland Niles to AS Roma was confirmed by the club which instantly reduces the midfield options. Cedric Soares is another player who could be moving on loan with a number of clubs allegedly interested in taking him on loan that may scupper plans for Mikel to use him in the FA Cup tie. Folarin Balogun seems to be on his way to Middlesbrough on loan so it’s debatable if he will be used. In all honesty today is the perfect opportunity for him to get minutes before going off on loan. He wasn’t involved with the U23s game against Brighton on Friday so it was definitely an omission related to either leaving on loan or anticipation for todays game.
So looking at what we have available it’s safe to say Bernd Leno will start the tie as he has done for most of season as our designated cup keeper. The centre back position will likely be occupied by Rob Holding, partnered by one of Mari or Chambers. Ben White will likely get a night off or at worst occupy a substitute spot in case of emergency. Gabriel is of course suspended so the options are limited to Holding, Chambers, Mari or a previously failed experiment of Kolasinac there.
Tomiyasu is unlikely to be risked and if Cedric is off negotiating a loan move then it seems more likely Chambers will take the right back slot. Tavares or Kolasinac will more likely compete for a left back start whilst Tierney will be wrapped in cotton wool, he doesn’t need to be risked against the club he made his Arsenal debut against back in that Carabao Cup game.
The midfield double pivot is likely to be occupied by Xhaka and Lokonga. Sambi has missed quite of bit of football recently through a combination of Covid-19 and the misfortune of being unable to displace the partnership of Xhaka and Partey. With the Ghanaian and Elneny now out of the picture due to international duty it gives an opportunity for Sambi to stake a claim back in the starting XI.
For the two flank positions I don’t think Mikel Arteta has the luxury to be able to rest the in form Saka and Martinelli meaning they will likely reprise their roles in the starting line-up. Same situation falls on Martin Odegaard as it has been rumoured Emile Smith Rowe may be carrying a knock and isn’t 100% ready to start.
Up front has its limitations due to Aubamyang’s AFCON commitments so I’d expect Eddie Nketiah to make the most of his successful auditions in the Carabao Cup to get a start at the expense of Alex Lacazette.
The Frenchman will likely start on the bench whilst as I mentioned earlier its unknown if Folarin Balogun will be in the squad or doing some sightseeing around Teesside this weekend.
After looking at all the availability of the experienced players its worth considering a potential surprise start could be in the air for one of our youngsters. Highly rated Charlie Patino is definitely on Mikel Arteta’s mind and at the head of the queue from the Hale End production line, it would not be a massive shock if the talented midfielder is granted with a start as reward for his rapid progress at the club. He’s had a taste in the first team and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
Personally I believe Arteta will start Patino on the bench in addition to a couple other exciting youngsters such as Omari Hutchinson and Salah-Eddine. I just feel being an away fixture Arteta will be more hesitant blooding the youngsters from the off. If we were at Emirates there would have been more chance of a starting berth. This is of course just my opinion and Mikel may well just surprise me. Either way I am excited to see Charlie get more minutes in any capacity and witness his development as he is introduced and integrated into the first team set up.
All in all let’s hope the boys can do the business today and secure the victory over Forest, the FA Cup gods will be watching on with great interest, we don’t want to disappoint after all.
Potential Line Up:
Born a stone’s throw (and a 271 bus ride) away from Highbury. Arsenal is my life, I celebrate every win and I suffer every defeat, it’s all about taking the good with the bad. Writing and sharing about everything Arsenal certainly keeps me sane!