Arsenal face Sunderland at the Emirates in the Third Round of the FA Cup this Saturday. Arsenal is the holders of the competition and has won it two years running.
These two teams met on December 5th in the league with Arsenal coming out 3-1 winners at the Emirates. Goals from Joel Campbell, Olivier Giroud, and Aaron Ramsey were enough to see the Gunners through.
Arsene Wenger had planned to rest a few key players for this match due to the busy Christmas schedule the club just go through. However, because of the importance that the manager places on the competition and the thin squad depth at the moment, Wenger acknowledged he might not be able to rest as many senior players as he would like. He did leave the door open for a few youngsters to play, with Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Alex Iwobi the most likely candidates.
Mikel Arteta is back in the squad and will likely feature on the bench, however, Alexis is just short of fitness. Wenger plans to be cautious with the Chilean international and will give him an additional week off to ensure his hamstring is healthy. Tomas Rosicky will also miss out but should join the squad in full training next week.
Here is Arsenal’s most likely starting lineup against Sunderland this Saturday.
Goalkeeper – Ospina
David Ospina last appeared for the club against Olympiakos at the Emirates in the Champions League. The Columbian international had a torrid night and not many will forget when he allowed the ball to drop over his line after coming out to collect it from a corner.
The FA Cup will prove to be Ospina’s only time in between the sticks this season and he will be wise to ensure his time spent on the field is an improvement from what we last saw of him.
Right Back – Bellerin
Normally, Mathieu Debuchy would start in a match like this. However, reports have been linking him with a loan move to Aston Villa and West Brom, although Tony Pulis recently debunked that. Because a deal could be imminent, Debuchy will not be risked and Hector Bellerin continues in the squad.
Center Backs – Gabriel & Koscielny
Wenger stated that Gabriel will be getting more opportunities in the New Year and Saturday’s match seems like an obvious one for the Brazilian to start in. Per Mertesacker will be rested having played in every match during the Christmas schedule. Laurent Koscielny will partner Gabriel in the center of defense.
Left Back – Gibbs
This is another obvious area where Wenger is likely to rotate. Kieran Gibbs has played well this season but Nacho Monreal has been better. Gibbs deserves some matches and Wenger will be able to grant the England left back pitch time in the FA Cup.
Defensive Mid – Chambers
Calum Chambers will partner with Mathieu Flamini in a two-man screen that sits above the back four. Chambers featured in this position a week ago against Bournemouth and played well.
Wenger will likely use this match as an opportunity to continue grooming Chambers as a defensive midfielder.
Central Mid – Flamini
Flamini will be given the license to roam up the pitch a bit further than Chambers but will still have to show defensive discipline. Flamini’s skill set does not benefit Arsenal up the pitch and he is more useful as a screening midfielder.
Arteta could start in place of Flamini but it seems likely that the Spaniard is not match fit enough to start.
Attacking Mid – Ramsey
Mesut Özil will be granted a rest after the German was meticulously managed in between matches this past month. Özil featured in every match during Christmas and was in scintillating form. His December was capped off with a PFA Player of the Month award.
Ramsey will push further up the pitch and play the number 10 role. The Welshman is more than capable of playing this position. Ramsey’s direct play will be a change from Özil’s dynamism but that should not effect what Arsenal expect out of this match.
Wide Right – Oxlade-Chamberlain
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will get the start on the right, allowing Theo Walcott to replace Olivier Giroud at striker, giving the Frenchman a deserved rest.
The Ox had dropped in the pecking order after putting in a number of less than impressive displays. He started against Bournemouth though, and did well enough to think that he could still resurrect his season.
Wide Left – Campbell
Campbell gets another start on the left. With a number of players returning to the squad in the next month, Campbell’s opportunities could become limited. His performances in the next few weeks will be important in shaping how the manager plans to use him the rest of the year.
Striker – Walcott
Walcott will get his first start at striker since returning from injury a month ago. Giroud has been in excellent form and will continue to be the preferred option up front. However, Walcott is an excellent alternative and a versatile enough player, which allows him to play an important attacking role in the center and on the wings.
Walcott’s pace and movement will be a nuisance for Sunderland who will also have to deal with the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain and the charging runs of Ramsey.