Martinelli is back. After netting just twice last season, Gabriel spent much of this season on the bench after featuring in the opening losses to Brentford and Chelsea. Now with three goals in the last two matches, he is returning to the form we saw in his debut season (‘19-20). In what used to be an overreliance on Bukayo Saka, he is now one of four exciting, and more importantly, in form young attackers. Plenty of potential for this season, but first a brief pause for the League Cup.
Sunderland have gone seven unbeaten in league play and currently sit 3rd in League One just four points off the top. They were knocked out of FA Cup in the first round, but are top their Football League Trophy group. Key players to note are 24-year-old Scottish forward Ross Stewart who leads the club with 11 goals from 25 matches, Aiden McGeady who Premier League fans will be familiar with from his time with Everton and Lynden Gooch, USMNT player & one of the longest serving players at Sunderland.
To get this the quarterfinal stage Arsenal defeated West Bromwich Albion 6-0 in the second round, followed by 3-0 over AFC Wimbledon and 2-0 past Leeds United in the fourth round. Sunderland entered at the opening stage first seeing off League Two’s Port Vale 2-1. Then it was a hat-trick and stoppage-time goal from Aiden O’Brien to help the Black Cats upset Championship side Blackpool. A fairly easy 2-0 result over Wigan was next before they were taken to penalties in the 4th round against QPR, with Sunderland advance 3-1 from the spot. Now in the quarterfinals, Sunderland is the only remaining non-Premier League club and will have nothing to lose as they head to the Emirates Tuesday evening.
- Aaron Ramsdale
- Kieran Tierney
- Ben White
- Granit Xhaka
- Thomas Partey
- Bukayo Saka
- Alexandre Lacazette
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Left Out: Arthur Okonkwo, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Takehiro Tomiyasu & Folarin Balogun
- Out: Pablo Mari (COVID-19), Albert Sambi Lokonga (COVID-19), & Sead Kolasinac (left ankle).
- Mikel Arteta has been resistant to rotate, whether it’s based on the cohesion from the current group or a worry about the number of fixtures. However, surely if there was ever a time to bring in new faces to the starting XI it’s here. Even with two players confirmed out with COVID-19 and the issue around Aubameyang, there is nearly enough for a brand new XI. So just how much will Arteta rotate? How much will playing at home come into play? Against a League One side? And in the Carabao Cup, with potentially a few more league matches in the coming days?
- At the time of writing we have received no further updates on the status of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, so we must proceed as if he remains unavailable for selection. This would be an ideal match for him to return, but Arteta may be waiting to see how things play out and if indeed there may be an unexpected early departure in January.
- On top of that uncertainty, the club has confirmed that both Sambi and Mari have COVID-19 and we await updates with each passing day to see if any further players will be ruled out. Arsenal is lucky to have entered this period without any major injuries and the lone player in the physio room, Kolasinac, is expected to be back in contention in January.
- It’s fairly straightforward to select new center mids and full-backs; however, how adventurous will Arteta be with the center back pairing? With Pablo Mari out and Rob Holding expected to start, who gets that second spot? Do you risk a Holding-Chambers CB duo or keep Gabriel or White in the starting XI hoping they avoid injury?
- Given the attacking options, someone must likely remain in the starting XI. I’ve got Martin Odegaard in that role, with Martinelli, Saka, and Lacazette rested, but you could see Smith Rowe shifting to the center and Martinelli rewarded for his hot streak.
- Might Folarin Balogun get a spot on the bench if Aubameyang remains out? With rumors of a loan move in January, this could be his last chance to play for the senior team this season. Despite his limited chances to date he is expected to be a key piece of the attack next year once decisions are made around Lacazette, Aubameyang, and Nketiah.
- An alternative strategy could be to move Chambers into the midfield, start Gabriel, and drop Odegaard in a 4-3-3. While the players are there for it, I’m not sure it’s needed at home against Sunderland and coming off a trio of wins.
How to watch
Tuesday (12/21) at 2:45 pm ET / 11:45 am PT on ESPN+.
Arsenal - 2
With nearly a week off before their next League One match, I’m expecting Sunderland to roll out their best lineup possible. Even though they are in the battle for automatic promotion, a six-day rest before they face 23rd place Doncaster means Sunderland can go for this Cup tie. Given that and the fact that I expect Mikel Arteta to finally rotate, it could be a closer match than anticipated. However, at home, with a rejuvenated Emirates Stadium and momentum within the squad, Arsenal advances to the League Cup semi-finals.