Arsenal take on Preston North End in the third round of the FA Cup. Having endured a difficult December and a somewhat disappointing start to the New Year, the Gunners will look to respond in the FA Cup.
The grueling New Years schedule has depleted Arsene Wenger’s squad with players given little time to recover from injury. Arsenal will be without Francis Coquelin for up to four weeks while Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, and Per Mertesacker will miss out due to injury, as well. There is further bad news with Wenger reporting that Santi Cazorla is not recovering as quickly as had been hoped and will certainly miss all of January, if not February.
Alexis Sanchez and Laurent Koscielny will be rested, while Lucas Perez and Hector Bellerin are struggling with ankle injuries that make their availability doubtful, as well. Danny Welbeck could be in line for a return to first team action, though, having missed the past eight months with knee cartilage damage.
With the number of players missing out, expect a few youngsters to future on the bench, and possibly the starting eleven, including Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Here is Arsenal’s most probable starting lineup on Saturday.
Goalkeeper – Ospina
David Ospina starts in goal, and will do so as long as Arsenal are in the competition. Emiliano Martinez will feature on the bench.
Right Back – Maitland-Niles
With Bellerin struggling with an ankle injury, Maitland-Niles will fill in at right back. Bellerin looked far from himself on Tuesday and the lingering injury was clearly affecting him. Carl Jenkinson is not in the picture for first team action and is likely to move to a new club this month. Mathieu Debuchy is still recovering from a calf injury and he too will depart the club soon.
Although Maitland-Niles is a defensive midfielder, he performed well at right back for the club in the third round of the League Cup and should be able to fill in as an emergency option again.
Center Backs – Gabriel & Holding
Gabriel and Rob Holding come into the squad. Koscielny needs a rest as he’s suffering from fatigue and experienced cramping in both legs against Bournemouth on Tuesday. Koscielny was removed in the 60th minute with Gabriel replacing him.
Shkodran Mustafi made his return to the first team action after missing three weeks with a hamstring injury. He didn’t look sharp, and although match action is the best way to regain that sharpness, Wenger will use this competition to get Holding and Gabriel game time.
Left Back – Monreal
With Kieran Gibbs out injured, Nacho Monreal starts at left back. The club are about to complete the signing of young left back Cohen Bramall from Hednesford Town, but he won’t be ready for the first team this season.
Defensive Mid – Xhaka
Granit Xhaka starts at defensive mid in the absence of Coquelin. With Mohamed Elneny away on international duty this month, Aaron Ramsey and Xhaka are Arsenal’s only available central midfielders. Expect Maitland-Niles to feature here some this month and possibly this game if Bellerin is healthy.
Xhaka should use this time to work on getting rid of silly mistakes like the penalty he gave away on Tuesday.
Central Mid – Ramsey
Ramsey was useless as a number 10 on Tuesday. He thrives in that position when he’s playing next to somebody who is more ball-dominate. He needs space in front of him to make runs behind, and that space doesn’t exist when he’s playing farther up the pitch.
A deeper role in central midfield will suit him well, as will playing with Alex Iwobi and Xhaka – both of whom make their selves available throughout matches.
Attacking Mid – Iwobi
With Ozil out another due to illness, Iwobi starts at number 10. He’s a natural at this position as he’s never afraid to get on the ball, take an opponent on, or get his teammates involved.
Wide Right – Oxlade-Chamberlain
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starts on the right having sufficiently recovered from a hamstring injury. Expect a lot of Arsenal’s attacks to come through the right side of the pitch due to the relevant inexperience of the left side.
Wide Left – Reine-Adelaide
Reine-Adelaide starts on the left with Welbeck not ready for first team action and Perez likely out with an ankle injury.
The French youngster was a regular in Arsenal’s League Cup matches. Like Iwobi before him, the FA Cup could be a springboard to the first team for Reine-Adelaide.
Striker – Giroud
Olivier Giroud starts upfront as Arsenal’s only healthy striker. The busy schedule shouldn’t have affected the Frenchman as much as his teammates. Giroud has only just become regularly involved in the first team again due to fitness concerns after the European Championship and injuries.
He’s on a hot goal-scoring streak and will be Arsenal’s main scoring threat. If Perez is healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start ahead of Giroud. The Spaniard has shown his qualities from the bench and deserves a run in the first team.
Via – Lineup Builder