Islington Gazette journalist Layth Yousif gives us an insight into what Southampton can expect from opponents Arsenal this weekend in the Emirates FA Cup fourth round.
What have Arsenal’s performances been like in recent weeks?
A bit of a curate’s egg. One of the most annoying things about the two deflating defeats at Everton and Manchester City before Christmas was that they allowed those who focus on fact that Arsenal are considered a ‘soft touch’ a platform with which to air their tired views. It’s far more nuanced than that and since then the team has shown what they are capable of in patches, with two league wins during the festive period, an FA Cup win at Preston, a convincing 4-0 triumph at Swansea and three points at against Burnley.
What the results don’t show is that Preston could have been two or three up, Paul Clement’s Swansea played exceedingly well in the first half at the Liberty, and Alex Sanchez’s ‘Panenka’ penalty to win the game 2-1 was scored in the 98th minute. As ever with Arsenal nothing is as black and white as it first appears.
How important is the Emirates FA Cup in the context of their season?
It depends on who you talk to. There are those on social media who dismiss it as a lesser trophy with the wins in 2014 and 2015 that disguise shortcomings in the Premier League and Champions League.
Then there are those who think it is a distraction from the weekly grind of the league and the sooner we are out of it the better. But for me – and I suspect a lot of other people who have been watching Arsenal since the 80s – the FA Cup is a trophy you always want to win, and deserves to be respected as such. I interviewed Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin and Rob Holding at the club’s training ground who all told me they were desperate to win it, and we looking forward to another tough game against Southampton suggests the players want silverware too. Personally I love the FA Cup. Always have done, always will.
Which players do you think could prove key this weekend?
I can’t see Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil playing this weekend, certainly not with crunch games at Chelsea and the double header with Bayern Munich looming. But whatever side they put out will be one to give Southampton a decent game of football.
I can see David Ospina starting, the talented but raw Ashley Maitland-Niles learned so much from a tough game at Deepdale in the last round and may well benefit from another run out. Gabriel should play and there may be appearances from Lucas Perez and another promising youngster Jeff Reine-Adelaide. But then all Arsenal youngsters are promising. They wouldn’t be at the club if they weren’t. Whether that translates into becoming first teamers at The Emirates is another matter entirely.
What sort of approach will Arsene Wenger take into this one?
Win or bust. The last thing he’ll want is replay. Expect to see an open, flowing game. Finally, congratulations to Southampton on reaching the League Cup final. I wish you well in the re-enactment of the 1976 FA Cup final – hopefully with a 21st century Bobby Stokes to win it too. But from an Arsenal point of view at St Mary’s tomorrow I hope you suffer from a bit of a cup hangover.