Who is in line to start v Nottingham Forest
When Arsenal have been drawn with lower league opposition in the early stages of the FA Cup, Arsene Wenger has rotated his squad.
This policy has proved correct for Wenger, as he has never been knocked out of the FA Cup at the 3rd round stage, and only ever once lost to a lower league side – the 5th round defeat to Blackburn Rovers in 2013.
I have spoken before about how Arsenal should prioritise the cups over the league in the second half of the season. That winning silverware is more important than finishing 4th.
That being said, Arsenal have a very busy January – from December 28th to February 3rd, we are due to play 11 times. That is just 36 days (I think). With FA Cup games, and the League Cup double header against Chelsea, we need to rotate the squad.
We play Nottingham Forest on the Sunday, then Chelsea in the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday, before visiting Bournemouth next Sunday.
Wenger will want his first team for the Bournemouth fixture. It will be interesting to see how he shuffles the squad for Nottingham Forest and Chelsea.
Will he play 2 separate sides? The first XI in one fixture, the 2nd XI in another? Or a mixed XI with key players split across the 2? Or will he play his second XI in both the Nottingham Forest and Chelsea games, giving his first team a 10 day rest before Bournemouth?
What is for certain is David Ospina will start in goal against Nottingham Forest. I imagine he will also play against Chelsea.
The make up of the team will be further confused by the formation.
In the last round of the League Cup, we went to 4 at the back with Rob Holding partnering Calum Chambers. We have recently returned to 3 at the back in the league.
With Laurent Koscielny likely to be rested as he continues to have his career managed due to a troublesome Achilles, we will certainly see Per Mertesacker return in the middle of the defence. I doubt Wenger will risk Shokdran Mustafi – who is still returning from his own injury issues.
Having played the last few games, I would not be too surprised if Chambers drops out with Rob Holding starting alongside Mertesacker. Partnering Holding and Mertesacker in a back 3 will either be Krystian Bielik or Julio Pleguezuelo.
My opinion is that whoever does not start between Holding / Chambers and Pleguezuelo / Bielik will be in line for a start against Chelsea (with Mustafi coming into the middle).
It will be interesting to see what Wenger decides at wing back.
Mathieu Debuchy will be in line to start ahead of Hector Bellerin on the right. On the left, Sead Kolašinac and Nacho Monreal are almost certainly out injured and, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles on first XI duties our options are limited. Utility youngster Josh Dasilva might get the nod, or Wenger might choose to go for someone like Chiori Johnson.
I do not expect Granit Xhaka or Jack Wilshere to start in the middle of the park. Wenger will surely go for the experience pairing of Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny. Do not be too surprised to not see Wilshere until the Bournemouth game.
Another interesting talking point will be who plays behind the striker.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez will both surely be rested. The worry is Wenger will go with Theo Walcott who does not suit playing narrow, behind a striker. But he does need match fitness, even if it is to prove he is ready for a transfer. Personally I would prefer to see Reiss Nelson get a wrong out.
Alex Iwobi was dropped for the game against Chelsea in the cup, he will surely come back in, playing behind Danny Welbeck.
All in all, it should be a strong XI filled with internationals. Beating Nottingham Forest should not be a problem.
Holding Mertesacker Pleguezuelo
Debuchy Coquelin Elneny DaSilva
Now I am off to Hooters