Arsenal face Sutton United in their FA Cup Fifth Round tie on Monday in a must-win game for both the club and Wenger after their demolition by Bayern.
The 12-time FA Cup winners may well be expected to dispatch Sutton, who play in the fifth tier of English football, but amidst the fresh wave of vitriol that’s surrounded the club and Wenger since their alarming defeat in Munich, things may not be quite so straightforward. Especially with a club like Arsenal who have proven to be notoriously fragile psychologically in the past.
It is in this light that Arsene Wenger might just select at least a near full-strength squad for the trip to Gander Green Lane. Underestimation is another cardinal sin many a big club has committed this season. The likes of Leicester and Watford are some of the latest to exit the Cup for making too many changes. Arsenal, though, are unlikely to be guilty of such a mistake given their current predicament. What Wenger would be hoping for more than anything would be some fire from his players. The determination to prove that last week was just an aberration, and not part of the repeating narrative.
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) February 20, 2017
Wenger concerned by the artificial pitch at Sutton
The Frenchman is understandably worried about playing on Sutton’s artificial 3G pitch in Monday’s game. And he stated his concerns in order:
“First of all the pitch.
“Secondly their enthusiasm. And thirdly, that we are not ready for a big fight and subconsciously think that they are a non-league team and it is no matter – but that will not happen.
“Ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. But it has been accepted and the competition is to deal with what you face. We will face an unusual pitch and we will have to deal with it.
Danny Welbeck will play no part in our FA Cup tie at Sutton due to their artificial pitch which could aggravate his knee. [Sky Sports] pic.twitter.com/PsLl5SdFjh
— Arsenal TSN (@ArsenalTSN) February 19, 2017
“We will practise inside because it is an artificial pitch. It is not the same because it is a dry pitch. And Sutton I have heard have a wet pitch which they water before the game and is quicker.
“The weight on the joints is different. And you cannot slide to block every time so it makes football a bit different. The ball comes to you suddenly and accelerates and does not slow down like in a normal game. So we have to get used to the different speed.”
Although the team has practiced playing on a 3G pitch ahead of the game, not everyone is expected to start. Danny Welbeck has withdrawn from the game, over the risk of re-injury on the artificial pitch. The 26-year old only recently made his return to the first team after being sidelined for eight months due to a knee injury, and is understandably keen on avoiding undue risks so early after recovering. The forward instead played in an under-23 game against Leicester on Sunday.
“Glad to get 70 minutes today to build up my match fitness,” he wrote on Twitter. “Plastic pitch at Sutton isn’t the best idea at the moment.”
— Arsenal illustrated (@AFCillustrated) February 19, 2017
”Wenger-Out” brigade building up steam
Wenger has been the subject of some truly vicious criticism over the past week, particularly from Arsenal fans themselves. One of the biggest exponents has been the YouTube based channel Arsenal Fan TV, one of whose expletive-ridden videos in the aftermath of the Bayern match went viral.
While some of the criticism is admittedly valid – Arsenal have really earned the title of serial chokers going into clutch games – it’s more the tone of the increasingly impassioned “Wenger-Out” brigade that is jarring. Particularly considering that there is absolutely no doubt that Wenger is a titan of the game, and in the club’s history. He has had a key hand in shaping the landscape of modern football and of the core philosophy that now permeates Arsenal Football Club. And that is both in terms of its management behind the scenes, and the style of play on the pitch.
What surely most of the baying crowd don’t realise is the void that will be left if and when the man departs. Manchester United fans may have a thing or two to say about that. Years of splashing the cash has barely kept United within reach of the top of the league. Arsenal, with its more thrifty approach to management will surely have a much longer road to recovery should standards fall in Wenger’s wake. The counter-arguments go beyond calling out critics for their lack of respect. Fans lusting for Wenger’s blood would do well to heed the warnings from the other side – careful what you wish for, indeed.
— 🔴⚪️ Jahan Miah ⚪️🔴 (@AllAboutTheAFC) February 20, 2017
Guardiola comes out swinging for Wenger
There are few people who haven’t had a say on Wenger, whether about his future, tactics or treatment by fans. And Pep Guardiola said his piece as well when questioned about his selection choices for the Huddersfield game:
“What I hear in the last 10 days, about how people, ex-players, journalists, treat Arsene Wenger is unacceptable.
“Our job, in that moment, doesn’t have any respect for any position, so it is not respectable, what happened.
“That is why we take the decisions and you can say whatever you want.”