06 January 2017

FA Cup Preview: Preston vs. Arsenal in "Invincibles" Clash!

The FA Cup's Third Round Proper throws together two behemoths of British football, the only two clubs to have ever completed a full campaign, the only two—eh, that's enough of that. I'm sure you'll have read quite enough of the "Invincibles" angle already, so that's about as much ink as I'll devote to it here. After all, for both clubs, that's history, ancient or otherwise. Let's turn our attention instead to the present, one in which Arsenal should look quite keen to advance and Preston might have more to worry about than this competition.

Starting with our hosts, Preston find themselves firmly lodged mid-table in the Championship, 11th out of 24.  A quick review of their recent results suggest that they're strong down the wings and through set-pieces, which could pose uncomfortable problems for us if we're not more careful than we were against Bournemouth on Wednesday. They frequently set up in a 4-4-2, and it's safe to say that we're likely to see a thicket of eight or nine men behind the ball to stymie us. Then again, in Preston's previous non-league fixture, a League Cup fourth-rounder against Newcastle, Simon Grayson named a squad full of back-benchers, saying at the time that "the [Championship] League is our priority". It's probable that he'll name a similar side for Saturday.

Shouldn't matter, to be honest. Even if we are the visitors to Deepdale, we really should see this as a smash-and-grab. If , however, we underestimate our opponents as we did for 70 minutes against Bournemouth, well, we'll get what we should have deserved at Dean Court. If, on the other hand, we can play as we did in the ensuing 25, it really won't matter who our opponent is or what squad they name. That's the kind of urgency we should play with from the get-go.

The player to whom I'm looking to deliver that urgency would be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. With Arsène likely to rest a few regulars, the 23-year old should get the nod. He's a confidence-man, needing time on the pitch to prove to himself and his critics what he's capable of. Given that time, he's made good. His pace and power offer a direct threat similar in many ways to what Alexis offers, and he's shown that he's dangerous with the ball at his feet. Against an over-matched, error-prone, and shuffled Preston back-line, Ox should find multiple opportunities to add to his goal/assist tally.

Robert Madley will preside. For what it's worth, we sport a record of six wins, no draws, and one loss when he does.

LAST THREE
Arsenal 2-1 Preston (12.10.1999—League Cup).
Preston 2-4 Arsenal (04.01.1999—FA Cup Third Round Proper).
Preston 2-0 Arsenal (30.08.1960—First Division).

FACTFILE
The clubs first clashed on 14 September 1901, a 2-1 win to Preston in the Second Division.
The two have met in the FA Cup on four other occasions but have played six such matches.
Of course, these two clubs are the only ones to complete a full season without losing a match.

INJURIES
Welbeck, Cazorla, Debuchy, Mertesacker, and Welbeck will miss out; Elneny is off to represent Egypt at AFCON, and Özil may be rested as he recovers from illness.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Ospina; Gibbs, Holding, Mustafi, Jenkinson; Xhaka, Ramsey;  Lucas, Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Giroud.

PREDICTION
A bit of rotation is likely to prevent any real rhythm from forming, but Arsenal should have more than enough intent and quality to overwhelm their hosts.
Preston 0-3 Arsenal.

What are your thoughts? Will Arsenal advance, or will we be left regretting another lost chance? Share your thoughts in the comments-section below!