Arsenal will face League One Coventry City in the F.A. Cup at the slightly incongruous time of Friday evening with last year’s domestic cup disasters close at their shoulder.
The visitors have been through the wringer over the last ten years or so, but their plight is even more pronounced now that they play home games to crowds of less than 2,000 in a town 35 miles away from Coventry. The Coventry fans are planning protest banners and chants in the 35th and 61st minutes of the game which Arsenal’s supporters clubs have backed.
On the field, Arsenal will view this as a good chance to progress to the 5th round and will probably look to rest some players with Southampton on the horizon on Tuesday evening.
Arsene Wenger has emphasised the need for Arsenal to prepare seriously for Coventry, ‘Yes, of course (they are a threat). If there is two or three divisions’ difference in rugby, basketball or volleyball, the higher team always wins.
‘Football maybe is the only sport, you can win [with the divisional difference] and that makes it so unpredictable.
‘We have to prepare seriously for this game as we are on a good run.’
‘I know much more than you think about Coventry City. First of all, when I arrived here, they were in the Premier League and one of the good teams.
‘We had many difficult games against them when they were in the Premier League. About the modern Coventry City, I must confess, I don’t know a lot.
‘I read an article about their manager last week but I will know much more tonight. This afternoon will be dedicated to getting to know more about them.’
Meanwhile, Coventry boss Steven Pressley told the Daily Telegraph about his admiration for his adversary tonight, ‘I love Wenger because he has never compromised his values,’
People talk about the eight years (without a trophy at Arsenal) but that`s because there`s financial doping in the game.
‘Wenger has built an unbelievable football club and stadium and a sustainable business model without having the money men behind him that some other clubs have had. Wenger`s been almost a victim of his success.
“A lot of his values are lost in the modern game with its vast amounts of money: Wenger develops young players, spends money prudently and runs his club in a good financial model. I love the fact that he`s been true to himself and that`s one of the reasons I`d like to see him win something.’
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal are still without Thomas Vermaelen (knee), Mikel Arteta (calf) and Aaron Ramsey (thigh) are out for the F.A. Cup clash with Coventry. Wojciech Szczesny is likely to be rested.
Theo Walcott (knee), Yaya Sanogo (back) and Abou Diaby (knee) are out. Nicklas Bendtner returns from an ankle injury. Tomas Rosicky (nose) was on the bench against Fulham but will not be available tonight.
Arsenal (from): Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Podolski, Wilshere, Özil, Giroud, Viviano, Chamberlain, Monreal, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Fabianski, Bendtner, Jenkinson, Frimpong, Gibbs, J.Y.Park, Ryo, Eisfeld, Gnabry, Hayden, Zelalem.
Player to watch: Alex Oxlade Chamberlain
Likely to be given a central berth tonight, with Podolski, Gnabry and Bendtner making up the front 3, this would represent his first start since August if he were to get the nod.
Chamberlain played 45 minutes of a reserve match against Middlesbrough on Monday and he’ll be looking to both provide Arsenal’s creative spark and get his own season up and running again.
Coventry City Team News:
Leon Clarke is expected to play despite handing in a transfer request, but his strike partner Callum Wilson is out with a shoulder injury.
Coventry City (from): Murphy, Christie, Adams, Webster, Thomas, Fleck, Baker, L.Clarke, Slager, Burge, Moussa, Seaborne, Barton, Daniels, Phillips, Willis, J.Clarke, Urquhart, Garner, Maddison, Thomas.
Player to watch: John Fleck
Nephew of former Norwich City schemer Robert, John Fleck started at Rangers at the age of 16 with the world at his feet. Off field incidents and a dispute with Rangers over his contract have seen him make his way to Coventry.
He’s a combustible player but on his day he has a creative spark that the Sky Blues are likely to need if they are to threaten Arsenal tonight.
Match Facts & Stats
Coventry have lost just once in their last 11 games.
Coventry and Arsenal have played each other 75 times in 47 years.
The first time these clubs played each other was at Highbury in the League which ended in a 1-1 draw in 1967.
When the two sides last played each other, Arsenal came out with a 6-1 victory at the Emirates in the League Cup in 2012.
Arsene Wenger’s first home match in charge of Arsenal was a 0-0 draw with Coventry in October 1996.
The last opposition player to score a hat trick at Arsenal was Coventry’s Micky Quinn in August 1993.
Arsenal have progressed on both occasions that these sides have met in the FA Cup. They won 3-0 in a replay at Highbury in 1975 (after a 1-1 draw at Highfield Road) and 3-1 at Highbury in 1977.
Arsenal have won the F.A. Cup ten times. Coventry won it once in 1987, beating Spurs in the Final.
The referee will be Robert Madley.
I’m backing Arsenal for a 3-0 win tonight. Chamberlain, Bendtner and Podolski with the goals.
Arsenal are away at Southampton on Tuesday night. Coventry will play away at Leyton Orient on the same night.