If Arsene Wenger picks the right Arsenal team for Friday's FA Cup fourth-round game against Coventry City, as he should, the Gunners' fans could realistically start whispering about the Premier League and FA Cup double.
Arsenal are heavy favorites for the FA Cup fourth round, with Oddschecker pricing them as low as 1-12 to record the win. Coventry can be found at an astonishing 30-1 with a little shopping.
When the two sides last met, in the League Cup last season, the Gunners ran out easy 6-1 winners as Olivier Giroud bagged his first goal for the club.
Wenger will know that his team will be expected to win. Steven Pressley's side are improving all the time and have only lost once in their last 11 games, to Swindon Town, as per Soccerbase. When you factor in that Coventry began the season with a 10-point deduction for going into liquidation, h/t Sky Sports, they have performed almost heroically this term. Those 10 points would have Pressley's team in the playoff spots to go back up to the Championship.
That being said, they really should not offer the Premier League leaders more than a speed bump on the way to victory, even if they have improved over the last 16 months. Coventry play a high-pressing game and like to work the ball through midfield.
John Fleck pulls the strings in midfield and Leon Clarke has scored 18 goals in 26 games, h/t Transfermarkt. They will, however, be missing their 21-year-old striker Callum Wilson. Wilson has scored 15 goals this season, but will miss the trip to the Emirates with a dislocated shoulder, as per BBC.
Arsenal won't be expecting another 6-1 win, but a couple of goals and a clean sheet would do rather nicely.
The Gunners have won their last six games on the trot (Soccerbase) and are about to embark on a very tough run of fixtures. Le Prof might view this game against the Sky Blues as the ideal time to rotate his team heavily.
The reason for this is their schedule. Four days after the Coventry game, Arsenal travel to Southampton. The resurgent Saints are unbeaten in their last three games having only won one from the previous 11. After that, the Gunners entertain Crystal Palace. It is worth noting, according to Opta, that since Tony Pulis took over the Eagles, only Arsenal have kept more clean sheets in the Premier League. It won't be an easy game, regardless of the gap between the two teams.
Then we have a triple bill of heavy hitters. On February 8, Arsenal travel to Liverpool. Four days later they entertain Manchester United and possibly Juan Mata, if all the transfer rumors are true, h/t Guillem Balague. Then comes the crunch tie of the month, Bayern Munich at the Emirates on Feb. 19.
Considering the month ahead and the 55 places separating the two clubs in English football, Wenger should choose this game to rest key players.
According to PhysioRoom.com, Arsenal have seven players out injured at this very moment in time. The injuries to Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen mean that Mathieu Flamini, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are almost certain to play.
Aaron Ramsey, who had returned from injury for the match against Fulham, is being reported by Physioroom as having picked up a minor hip injury. He is joined by Yaya Sanogo on the sidelines with the same complaint.
Nicklas Bendtner's ankle injury is not expected to have cleared up by Friday. All five injured players are expected back on January 28.
The injuries to Bendtner and Sanogo mean that Wenger only has Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski to choose from up front. Given Giroud's overall importance to how Arsenal play, Wenger will start with Podolski, as he continues his return to full fitness. The big Dane would have started if he wasn't injured. There is still a slight chance he might return, but it is only slight.
Giroud has improved greatly upon his debut season. This term he has scored nine goals and contributed five assists along with 1.2 key passes per game, according to WhoScored. He has regularly featured in the Premier League's top-10 players this season on WhoScored and his offensive contribution and hold up play cannot be underestimated. In many ways, he is Arsenal's most important player.
Much will be expected of Podolski, especially against this lower class of opposition.
Nacho Monreal has featured in every match Arsenal have played in 2014. That good run, and rich vein of form, will not continue against Coventry. Kieran Gibbs is in much need of match fitness and will start. Thirty-year-old Bacary Sagna (he'll be 31 on St. Valentine's day) has played 30 matches, as per Soccerbase, and is in need of a rest. Carl Jenkinson, who has yet to kick a ball in anger in 2014, should slot in at right-back without missing a beat.
That leaves midfield as the area of most contention for Wenger.
TalkSport's Andy Durham, writing for the Daily Mail, has questioned Mesut Ozil's work rate of late. Against Fulham, the German international was barely in the game. He looked a peripheral figure until Santi Cazorla took the match by the scruff of the neck. Since the beginning of December, WhoScored have only awarded Ozil over 7/10 just once.
Wenger will have to tread carefully here. There is no doubting Ozil's ability when he is on form. The question is though: Should Wenger rest him against Coventry or play him in an effort of boosting his confidence and contribution levels?
Looking at the importance of the matches at the beginning of February, Wenger would be best placed to drop his star signing. Leaving him on the bench against the Sky Blues could have a better effect than letting him play in a win.
That would allow Cazorla to move inside as Tomas Rosicky and Serge Gnabry take up the positions on the flanks. With Ramsey, Arteta and Abou Diaby still out with an ACL injury, that leaves Jack Wilshere in central midfield with Flamini.
This is the ideal game to give the younger players a taste of the action. It would come as no surprise to see Gedion Zelalem feature on the bench. The 16-year-old German of Ethiopian descent has impressed in underage matches this season, but has yet to make his debut.
The FA Cup could provide an ideal platform for Wenger to showcase some of the talented youth players at the club. Andries Jonker was appointed as Liam Brady's successor as Youth Academy Manager on January 20, according to Arsenal's official website.
eam to start vs. Coventry City at the Emirates Stadium:
Fabianski; Jenkinson, Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker; Wilshere, Flamini, Cazorla, Rosicky, Gnabry, Podolski
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