So after the manic fixture congestion leading up to the New Year, we begin Arsenal’s traditional January defence of our FA Cup crown, and Wenger can give a few of our first-teamers a breather before the January pile-up continues with our League Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Wednesday.
Our Championship opponents Nottingham Forest have recently sacked Mark Warburton after dropping out of the promotion race and as they are now firmly ensconced in mid-table they have little else to play for except a glorious FA Cup run, and with the new-manager boost they are capable of causing a major upset today against the holders. As the Forest goalkeeper Jordan Smith said: “It is a game that you can’t not look forward to. It is a welcome distraction from the league with it not going how we would want it to, and the FA Cup is something that you really look forward to.
“Growing up, it was all about the magic of the cup and it is almost a free hit for us on Sunday. It is the draw you want; you either want someone who you can go out and beat or you draw one of the big hitters and they don’t come much bigger than Arsenal.”
Arsene Wenger, having won this competition more than any other manager in history, is also well aware that League form means nothing in the early rounds. He said: “From my personal experience in the FA Cup, and I think I have a lot, this is maybe the most difficult round,” he said.
“It’s always difficult to start well in the competition and when you play away against a Championship team – it’s always very intense and the Championship teams are ready to face you.
“For them, it’s a big challenge and you have to maintain your concentration coming out of a very loaded and congested period over Christmas. That’s never easy.”
But, on bare form, Arsenal have the right to be hot hot favourites, as they should be against a team 28 places below us in the rankings. First of all let us look at Forest’s recent home record..
Three wins and 3 losses is about right, as in the first half of the season Forest have notched 7 home wins and 6 defeats. Not a draw in sight! So don’t expect any replays from this game. But Arsenal’s away form is a bit less clearcut….
Despite the Gunners excellent home record, they have won just 3 of their 11 away League games this season, but adversely Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 10 away games in the FA Cup, and even more if you include our Wembley semis and Finals! So that is why Wenger is an FA Cup legend…
One other little statistic is that Arsenal have lost only once in our last 12 meetings with Forest, and that was back in 1996….
So what team do we think Wenger will pick today. We have numerous injuries to contend with and Wenger will want to rest as many as possible without risking defeat. “Some players who played against Chelsea will play on Sunday.” the Boss said. “We have five or six players injured and I take this game very seriously and it is a difficult game. Overall we have Sunday, Wednesday and Sunday against Bournemouth. So we have four days between Chelsea and Forest so that is [not] quite ideal and after it will be shorter between Sunday and Wednesday but after we have four days again so I can rotate in a little bit in a soft way.”
I personally think he won’t play any of the players that faced Chelsea except AMI! So here is my team prediction….
Debuchy – Mertesacker – Holding
Nelson – Elneny – Coquelin – Maitland
Walcott – Iwobi
That lot should be good enough to win this, but I am certainly not expecting an easy game.
My Prediction? 2-1 to the Arsenal….
What do you think?