By 1970’s Gooner
Arsene Wenger faces a difficult choice in deciding what team to select for the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
On the one hand he has to try and avoid a defeat like the one suffered at White Hart Lane where the young guns were humiliated with a 5-1 score line.
Clearly the psychological impact of another defeat especially in the hands of its fiercest and closest rival for the Premiership title may carry over in the next few games affecting the team’s performances in the all important League and Champions League fixtures coming up.
On the other hand it is obvious that the order of importance and hence priority places the Premiership title and the Champions League way ahead of the FA Cup.
Risking too many first team players in the FA Cup would therefore be considered reckless especially when taking into account that the squad is already depleted of as much as 11 players.
These include Almunia, Abou Diaby, Robin van Persie, Denilson and Johan Djourou who appear to be out. In addition there are others who are carrying injuries and as such Wenger would be loath to use them.
Tomas Rosicky has a hamstring strain (he has "a little chance" to play at Old Trafford according to Wenger).
Kolo Toure has suffered a groin strain at the Africa Cup of Nations and although rested for the third place game in Ghana Wenger may want to make sure that the groin is rested not risking a recurrence of the injury.
Philippe Senderos (knee) gritted his teeth and played through the pain barrier in the 2-0 win over Blackburn. With Johan Djourou still out Gallas is the only fit centre back at the moment.
Alexander Song who so impressed in the Africa Cup of Nations with his marvelous displays for Cameroon was substituted early in the first half in the Final with a muscle strain.
He probably would have been one of the first on Wenger’s team sheet for Old Trafford (see my earlier posting: Song shines for Cameroon)
Also Mathieu Flamini (hamstring) and Cesc Fabregas (illness) played against Blackburn despite their problems.
The period coming up could prove crucial in defining Arsenal’s season where success in every single of the remaining 12 games is of outmost importance as Manchester United is of course waiting to pounce on any slip up.
And there are of course the Champions League games against Kaka’s AC Milan the first of which follows the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford. The other is two weeks later after the home game against Aston Villa.
So logically it should be a “weakened”, almost a Carling Cup, side that should run out at Old Trafford to face Manchester United.
Lehmann will continue and I think Gallas should start along with Senderos in central defence as it would be too risky to play Toure. If however Senderos is not passed fit then Hoyte should be the one to start.
The choice for left and right back would be interesting. Clichy is fit while Traore may prove too young to mark Ronaldo (if he plays).
However Clichy is irreplaceable for Arsenal both for his excellent defensive play but also for his offensive forays which are mostly enabled by Hleb’s meanderings into the middle of the pitch thus releasing space.
Arsenal’s penetration on the wings comes mainly from the full backs as Rosicky tends to do the same as Hleb with Sagna benefiting from the space created.
So Clichy and Sagna should in my opinion be “preserved” for more important battles to come with Traore and Hoyte deputising.
Traore especially will have a difficult game against Ronaldo but in my opinion it will have to do as Clichy is too important to risk.
However if Hoyte ends up playing in central defence then Wenger has two choices. One option is to reinstate Eboue at right back with Walcott coming in on the right wing.
If the latter is not passed fit (there are doubts about his fitness) then I don’t see anyone else being able to play in the right back position from the available players other than Kerrea Gilbert! He has been putting in good performances for the reserves lately and he is experienced enough.
Wenger should resist starting Walcott in the middle of the attack as his lack of control and physical presence proved inadequate against Spurs in that 5-1 defeat.
Fabregas has been ill and had to get out of bed to play against Blackburn. He has also looked tired in recent games and he needs to be rested.
Gilberto and Flamini therefore should continue their pairing in central midfield. Hleb should start on the left as his organizational play will be needed especially if Fabregas does not play.
Adebayor is in such prolific form he needs to be rapped up in cotton wool and released against Milan and the ensuing League games. Bendtner and Eduardo can resume the understanding forged between them in the Carling Cup games.
My starting 11 would therefore be the following:
Hoyte Senderos Gallas Traore
Eboue Gilberto Flamini Hleb
The dilemmas facing Alec Ferguson are pretty much the same as those of Wenger’s. He also has to rest players in order to have them fit for the crucial games coming up in Europe and in the League.
But he has to take into account however of Manchester United’s “humiliating” defeat against their local rivals Manchester City.
The pressure will be onto him to field a strong eleven against Arsenal so as to get the team back to winning ways especially against their rivals for the title.
It will therefore be quite a tough game for the young guns but one where they have the chance not only to prove themselves but obtain valuable experience in one of the most hostile places they are likely to find in the League.
Ensuring in the process that Wenger’s conveyor belt of young exciting talent proves itself once more.