I have an embarrassing and regretful confession to make: I will not be watching Arsenal play Leeds tonight.
Unfortunately my the company I am working for in Berlin (which is otherwise actually rather awesome) decided to schedule a social outing for tonight and being the ultimate team player that I am (just call me Emmanuel Eboue) I agreed to sacrifice the Arsenal for one night.
At the time it seemed like the right thing to do — it’s just an FA Cup replay, I thought — but now with grass-is-greener style images of Johan Djourou scoring a spectacular winner to silence a roaring Elland Road crowd I’m not so sure. In fact, giving the choice being poked in the eye and missing the Arsenal game, well… you’ve seen the headline.
Jokes aside I’m actually expecting tonight’s game to be a little bit special. Our boys have a lot to prove after the embarrassing week that preceded the West Ham win and there’s no question that the team that went oh, so close to knocking us out of the Cup a week ago will be well and truly up for this one in front of their home fans.
Once again our starting team is likely to be halfway between a full-strength and second-string line-up. If I had to predict the starting XI it would include Wojciech Szczesny in goals (maintained as a result of Lukasz Fabianski’s unfortunately-timed injury); a back four of Bacary Sagna (yay!), Johan Djourou (YAY!), Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs; a midfield trio of Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Denilson and a front three of Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh.
Contrary to popular opinion, despite needing a late penalty to snatch a replay, I didn’t think we played too badly in the first game against Leeds. Although there was a dip in the energy in the second half that required a shot in the arm by the introduction of Fabregas and Theo Walcott, we created plenty of chances throughout the 90 minutes and were more unlucky not to win the game than lucky not to lose it.
Despite this we will need to raise our game: Leeds will be a different proposition in front of their fiery support and if we do not match their endeavour we could have another Ipswich on our hands. In addition, the reason we went so close to going out of the tournament in the last game was not poor defending or a lack of effort, but the inability to convert the chances we created. Although they don’t deserve the vitriolic criticism that has been aimed at them the likes of Arshavin and Bendtner need to make the most of the chances they create.
With several winnable league fixtures coming up in the league tonight’s game is huge opportunity to build on the momentum that was established by winning at West Ham. It should be a brilliant, energetic contest and although I won’t be able to watch it, wherever you are in the world, I hope you enjoy.
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