With all of the chaos endured by the Gunners during the first week of Project Restart, it has been easy to forget that the FA Cup quarterfinals are looming. Arteta and co. have a chance (albeit slim) of taking home some silverware, and while that might not fully wash away the awful aftertaste of this season, trophies are still trophies, and success of any kind will be a welcome change of pace for a team enduring growing pains.
Arsenal are set to face Sheffield United in the quarterfinals after an exceedingly lengthy layoff from England’s oldest cup competition. One could argue that no team endured a worse first week of Project Restart than the Blades. In the first match against Aston Villa, they were robbed of a win when they suffered an egregious goal-denying officiating error that was so bad they were given an official apology from the goal-line tech entity (named Hawk-eye) responsible for preventing such errors. Following that, they were shellacked 3-0 by both Newcastle and Manchester United in consecutive matches. Not ideal.
Much like Arsenal, Sheffield United are chasing one of the coveted top 4 (potentially top 5 pending Manchester City’s appeal) spots for Champions League qualification. Unlike Arsenal, Sheffield are not historically perennial contenders for one of the CL spots. Needless to say, both teams will have that chase in the back of their minds when deciding on match day rosters for the cup tie.
What could make the biggest difference on the selections are the matches that each team have scheduled following the quarterfinal. Arsenal travel to bottom-dwelling Norwich City, while the Blades head to London to take on CL-chasing Tottenham Hotspur. Both teams will have big personnel decisions to make and sacrifices might be made for the sake of one of the competitions over the other. With such quick turnarounds, rotations are not just expected, but also hoped for. Arsenal have a deeper and more talented roster than Sheffield on paper, but unfortunately for the Gunners, matches aren't played on paper.
Emi Martinez will undoubtedly start since taking over starting first-team keeping duties following Bernd Leno’s knee injury. Sokratis could get his first start in the defense since the restart after recovering from a minor knock. Academy products Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland Niles could start as well while Matteo Guendouzi should have finally gotten out of the doghouse after his post-match antics at Brighton. Finally, we may finally see Mesut Ozil start for the Gunners. He has been a no-show in the first three restart matches, and, as always, questions have begun to swirl over the reason for his lack of playing time and his future with the club. But with the semifinals on the line, is Arteta willing to shake things up too much?
Arsenal have not fared well against Sheffield in the Premier League this season, losing the first match at Bramall Lane 1-0 and drawing 1-1 in the return match at the Emirates. Project Restart has felt in many ways like a new season, and Sunday’s match could prove a prime opportunity for the Gunners to regain some control before a treacherous home stretch in the league.
WHAT: FA Cup Quarterfinal stage
WHO: Arsenal at Sheffield United
WHERE: Bramall Lane
WHEN: 1pm BST/8:00am EST/5:00am PST
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN and ESPN.com
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