Arsenal will be hoping to avoid a shock FA Cup upset when they host non-league side Lincoln City in the quarter-finals this weekend.
With the club seemingly in crisis and Arsene Wenger under pressure over his future, the last thing Arsenal need is another defeat. Tuesday’s 5-1 loss at the hands of Bayern was their fifth defeat (all comps) since the 5-0 victory over Southampton in the last-32 of this competition.
Lincoln will travel to north London full of confidence that they can snatch a positive result. Having only lost once in 2017, Danny Cowley’s side have already knocked out the likes of Brighton and Burnley in previous rounds to get here.
Arsène answered questions on his future, as well as that of some first-team players before looking ahead to a potential banana skin this weekend.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been heavily linked with a move away from the Emirates this summer, amid suggestions he is unhappy and wants a fresh start.
Wenger had this to say in response, “I’m surprised [by the reports] because I believe that he is developing well at the moment and he has been given his chance.
“I personally wish that he stays at the club, because I think he’s a very promising player who has developed very well and who looks to me to have the values that we rate at this club.”
Plenty of questions revolve around Wenger’s future and whether he will remain manager despite intense scrutiny. He was asked about whether he has already come to his decision privately, replying: “No, my decision is to focus on the next game and make absolutely sure that we respond well on Saturday.”
When questioned about whether the FA Cup gives them reason for optimism Wenger replied, “The FA Cup is the next game, and of course, when you’ve had a disappointment like we had in the last game, it’s important [to respond].
“We are favourites, but when you are at a big club, you are favourites 90 per cent of the time and you have to deal with that. It’s the next game and in the next game people expect us to win, so there’s pressure there of course.”
Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi, who were both sidelined against Bayern with a bug, are not expected to feature on this occasion either. Mesut Özil missed the 3-1 defeat against Liverpool with illness but was a second-half substitute against the Bundesliga giants, so should be fit enough to play here.
Mohamed Elneny (ankle) is still sidelined after limping off against Sutton United whilst Santi Cazorla is the only long-term absentee.
David Ospina is expected to continue in-between the posts as the designated Cup goalkeeper. Elsewhere, there probably will be wholesale changes to the side that were comprehensively beaten in midweek. Per Mertesacker could possibly return at centre-back but the experienced German is lacking match sharpness.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s display on Tuesday merits a continued spell in central midfield alongside someone like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who flourished against Southampton in the fourth round.
Walcott may keep his place, Lucas and Alexis are both expected to start and it will be interesting to see whether Wenger opts for youth over experience. Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ramsey are both viable attacking options to choose from in a creative-minded midfield role.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Gabriel, Mustafi, Holding, Gibbs; Maitland-Niles, Ox; Walcott, Alexis, Reine-Adelaide; Perez.
Lincoln are the only non-league side remaining in this year’s competition but will relish the challenge given Arsenal’s recent struggles.
Their most recent fixture was a 4-0 thrashing over Braintree in the National League on Tuesday evening. Loan signing Lee Angol netted a hat-trick but is cup-tied, having played for parent club Peterborough earlier this term.
Lincoln are six points clear at the summit of the National League and look set for promotion into League Two come May. They’ll be aiming to continue an unlikely Cup run despite another trip to Premier League opposition.
Sean Raggett’s last-gasp winner at Turf Moor will increase confidence they can replicate this result against a better quality side. If they can defend well here, Arsenal could easily find themselves in further trouble.
Possible XI (4-4-2): Farman; Habergham, Raggett, Waterfall, Wood; Hawkridge, Power, Woodyard, Arnold; Margetts, Rhead.