You can’t move without comment about Arsène Wenger’s future. Forty-five disastrous minutes in Bayern ended their Champions League hopes while Chelsea ensured that another year passes for Arsenal without the Premier League title returning to the north London.
Gander Green Lane won’t be a place for the faint-hearted on Monday night with a global audience of millions hoping Sutton add to Arsenal’s misery. The Gunners are in a “no-win” situation where even a handsome victory will be greeted with indifference; they are overwhelming favourites to win and everyone expects them to.
But this is the FA Cup and Sutton United has the chance to deliver the biggest shock in the competition’s history. For many, the romance of the cup died long ago; can this be the moment when it is revived?
The history books won’t reflect a much-changed line-up, all they show is Sutton United beating Leeds United 1 – 0 in the FA Cup fourth round. They joined Forest Green Rovers, Dartford, Cheltenham, and you suspect the one the U’s enjoyed the most, AFC Wimbledon, as Sutton’s victims.
Arsenal wouldn’t be just a feather in their cap, it would be the whole peacock. The Gunners are the overwhelming favourites to win, a point which manager Paul Doswell freely admitted. He’s hoping that Arsène Wenger continues his policy of playing an inexperienced line-up. As Doswell put it, “that gives us that one percent chance [of victory] that we'd be after.”
Three Arsenal ‘old boys’ are in contention to face the Gunners. Roarie Deacon and Jack Jebbare both likely to feature with Jeffrey Monakana and Craig Eastmond also in contention.
The FA Cup has proven a delightful distraction from the National League and FA Trophy. February has been a harsh month; three defeats and a draw. At least they have scored now; Matt Tubbs 37th-minute penalty during the 1 – 2 reverse against Guiseley was the first since Jamie Collins did the same against Leeds.
They haven’t scored in open play since Adam May netted in the 102nd minute of the 3 – 2 FA Trophy win over Worthing; 468 minutes and counting. Sutton won’t care if they score from the penalty spot; any goal will do!
Lost among the recriminations of Wednesday night’s defeat in Munich, is that Arsenal played well for the final 25 minutes of the first half. In the end it meant nothing as Bayern scored four without reply in the second half but it certainly means Sutton can expect to find the Gunners firing on all cylinders in this cup tie.
Speaking to the media on Friday, Arsène Wenger said he would field a “normal” team which most assume means that he won’t be rotating his XI much. The line-up is expected to include Danny Welbeck and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, with Per Mertesacker returning to the line-up after missing the last seven months through injury.
Laurent Koscielny is expected to miss three weeks following suffering a hamstring strain in Munich which could mean an opportunity for Rob Holding at Gander Green Lane. Other than that, Wenger has no new injuries to contend with, other than bruised pride.
The Gunners may welcome back Lucas Perez who with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, provided excellent support to Welbeck in the 5 – 0 drubbing of Southampton in the last round.
Arsenal’s biggest problem may be the Gander Green Lane itself. A 3G synthetic pitch, it will suit the Gunner’s passing game and pacey players. Concerns over injuries caused by the lack of ‘give’ in the surface won’t go away and that may dominate Wenger’s thinking about his team selection.
FORM (Last six games)
Sutton United - WWDLLL
Arsenal - WWLLWL
- 3 – the number of goals Sutton have scored in time added on in their 4 FA Cup Proper cup ties this season.
- 0 – the number of times Arsenal have lost to a non-league side in an FA Cup tie.
- 18 – the number of wins Arsenal recorded in their last 19 FA Cup ties.
- 7 – the number of Arsenal’s last 8 FA Cup ties which featured +2.5 goals.
- 1 – the number of defeats Sutton suffered in their last 14 home games in all competitions.
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CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the first meeting between the two sides in a competitive match.
The phrase “a million to one shot” sums up the gap between the two sides. Arsenal took a ‘junior’ side to Southampton in the last round and won 5 – 0 so what might they achieve at Sutton?
An early goal should see them through comfortably but if they fall behind or become frustrated, the tiny Gander Green Lane ground could become claustrophobic to them. Arrogance or complacency could see the National League side cause the biggest upset in FA Cup history, surpassing Walsall’s humbling of an Arsenal side which dominated English football in 1933.
No logical or rational thinking can put forward a reason for Sutton to win in a footballing sense. The statistics, everything about the match points to an Arsenal win. Add into the mix the humiliation they suffered in Munich and Wenger should find himself with a squad of highly motivated players.
Expect a strong Arsenal side and plenty of goals from the Premier League side.