Arsenal travel to Southampton for their fourth round FA Cup matchup on Saturday. The Gunners have struggled away to Southampton recently, and this weekend won’t be made easier due to certain omissions.
Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil, and Laurent Koscielny will all be left out of the lineup, and possibly the squad, as Arsene Wenger rotates his side with important Premier League fixtures in mind. There’s also a very good chance Wenger will be serving a touchline ban this weekend after he was charged with misconduct do to his injury time outburst last weekend against Burnley.
The manager admitted to the charges and has a personal hearing set for Friday. The Gunners will then find out for how long they’ll be without their manager on the touchline. The hope is two matches so that he’ll be back for the club’s important away match to Chelsea next weekend but some have called for a longer ban to make a statement against the treatment of officials. In the absence of Wenger, assistant manager Steve Bould will be in charge.
Arsenal will be able to welcome a few players back to the squad. Kieran Gibbs and Hector Bellerin will both make starts after returning from injury. Theo Walcott is back in training and should feature on the bench. Danny Welbeck will make his first start of the season having made three substitute appearances since returning from a serious knee injury. Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy have both returned to full training, although they’ll need more time before they can be considered for selection.
Here is Arsenal’s most probable starting lineup on Saturday.
Goalkeeper – Ospina
David Ospina starts in goal, replacing Petr Cech for the FA Cup.
Right Back – Bellerin
Bellerin returns to the starting lineup having returned from an ankle injury. It’s possible Wenger may choose to hold Bellerin out one more game so he’s available against Watford on Tuesday. In that instance Gabriel would start at right back with Debuchy not quite ready to start.
Center Backs – Gabriel & Mustafi
Shkodran Mustafi and Gabriel start in the center of defense. Koscielny will be held out like he was in the third round against Preston North End. If Gabriel does start at right back, Rob Holding will start next to Mustafi. It’s unlikely that we’ll see Mertesacker on the bench.
Left Back – Gibbs
Gibbs returns to the starting lineup, replacing Nacho Monreal. Wenger is likely to rotate this position more often as the season progresses and it’s fair to wager that Gibbs will start in the FA Cup as long as Arsenal remain in the competition.
Defensive Mid – Coquelin
With Granit Xhaka suspended, Francis Coquelin starts next to Aaron Ramsey. Xhaka will miss the next four domestic matches, giving Coquelin a chance to regain a starting spot and his partnership with Ramsey to improve.
In the past, Coquelin and Ramsey have failed to form a cohesive partnership, as their strengths don’t exactly complement each other. But with Ramsey improving the past few weeks in each game that could change.
Central Mid – Ramsey
Ramsey starts in central midfield as the only healthy midfielder besides Coquelin. Mohamed Elneny is still away with Egypt at the African Nations Cup and his return is much needed for depth.
Ramsey has played well the past few weeks, but we’ll soon find out how much that was down to an improved understanding with Xhaka, as the Welshman plays next to Coquelin for the next four matches.
Attacking Mid – Iwobi
Alex Iwobi replaces Özil in the starting lineup as the German playmaker is kept out of the side. Iwobi flourished as Arsenal’s number 10 in the FA Cup last season and it’s where he cemented his position as a key first team player. Many believe playing centrally brings the best out of Iwobi.
Wide Right – Perez
Lucas Perez starts out wide with Iwobi playing through the middle and Alexis out of the starting lineup. Wenger likes to play Perez on the right because he takes up more central positions, opening up the wing for Bellerin, and it allows the Spanish striker to cut inside to his left foot.
Wide Left – Oxlade-Chamberlain
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain comes in to the starting lineup and lines up wide left. He had a good run in the side last month but hasn’t featured in the starting lineup for a few weeks now. The Ox needs to take advantage of opportunities in competitions like the FA Cup.
Striker – Welbeck
Welbeck makes his first start of the season as Wenger uses this weekend as an opportunity to give the English striker much needed playing time. Welbeck is a player that Wenger likes, trusts, and wants available as more than just an 80th minute substitute. For that to happen, Welbeck needs starting minutes, and there aren’t many opportunities for Wenger to give that kind of starting minutes to a player looking to regain match fitness. This weekend is one of those opportunities.
If it’s deemed Welbeck is unready to start a match, Olivier Giroud will start in his place.