29 January 2016

Unleash Elneny! There. That is all.

After three disappointing results in the Prem, the FA Cup offers a welcome break as we host Burnley on Saturday with a golden chance at advancing to the fifth round proper. The Clarets did make a cameo in the Prem last season only to rejoin the Championship, where they currently sit third behind Hull and Middlesbrough, each of whom has featured in our recent FA Cup wins in recent seasons. Saturday will also reunite us with an old friend in Joey Barton, who I'm sure relishes a chance to play the cartoonish villain yet again. We'd do best to ignore his antics; he's just as likely to get sent off as to get someone sent off.

To get here, Burnley had to see off none other than Middlesbrough at Riverside Stadium, no small feat given how dominant Boro have been at home to this point (ten wins from fourteen fixtures, just three goals conceded). Burnley will arrive at the Emirates having won five of their last six, including three on the road, while scoring fourteen goals in their last four outings. Not bad. Not bad at all. We have faced a common opponent in Sheffield Wednesday, for what that's worth: we lost 0-3 in the League Cup, and Burnley battered the same 3-1. By that math, I suppose we'd lose 6-1. Given our recent struggles, that might not be all that far-fetched.

More seriously, though, we're emerging from an injury-spell that beggars belief, even by Arsenal standards, and the FA Cup has become a bit of a precious keepsake of late. Having won it in two consecutive years, we have an almost holy obligation to defend it against all comers. We now have almost everyone back in training, with only Wilshere and Cazorla ruled out. Mertesacker will serve a one-match suspension for his moment of madness against Chelsea, but Arsène now faces selection dilemmas that derive from a plethora of options rather than a paucity. As inspiring as it might be to see Coquelin resume his role, it might make more sense to give new Mohamed Elneny a runout alongside Mathieu Flamini. Without underestimating our opponents, it's time to give him a chance.

We should be able to get away with a bit of rotation, in fact, without upsetting the apple-cart. Gabriel for Mertesacker is a foregone conclusion, but Gibbs for Monreal also looks likely. The attack though might feature first-choice first-teamers in order to seize this match by the scruff. Giroud, having barely had a chance to break a sweat against Chelsea, should lead the line with Walcott on the right and Campbell on the left. For as diffident as Walcott has been, a runout on the right against Burnley might be just the tonic he needs. As for Campbell, he's shown a versatility and doggedness that should fill the bill on the left as well as on the right.

As for who'll rise to the occasion, I do hope it will be Walcott. He's suffering through a dry-spell of epic proportions, but, on his day, he's as lethal an attacker as any other. Burnley are unlikely to offer him the space on which he thrives, but he has shown on occasion that he's more than just a one-trick pony. Should he get the chance on Saturday, I'm pegging him to answer in spades.

LAST 3
Burnley 0-1 Arsenal (11.04.2015)
Arsenal 3-0 Burnley (01.11.2014)
Arsenal 3-1 Burnley (06.03.2010)

FACTFILE
Burnley have not defeated Arsenal in London since 1963.
This will be the third time the two clubs have squared off in the FA Cup.
The first match ever between the two clubs took place on 1 August 1897, a 1-1 draw.

INJURIES
Only Wilshere and Cazorla have been ruled out. Welbeck is not yet fully fit.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Ospina; Gibbs, Gabriel, Koscielny, Bellerín; Flamini, Elneny; Campbell, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

It's always tricky to know what to expect from a Championship side, but Arsenal might just unload on Burnley after three disappointing Prem results.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 4-1 Burnley