We travel to the seaside town of Blackpool to begin our FA Cup journey in 2019, and our previous encounter with the Seasiders in this season’s Carabao Cup holds a few clues for this game.
The Tangerines came perilously close to causing an upset in October, when we narrowly came out 2-1 victors, and we would do well to bear this in mind when we take to the field - especially as this is at Bloomfield Road, rather than like the first match at The Emirates.
That match saw a fair amount of first team regulars. Matteo Guendouzi (who was also sent off), Shkodran Mustafi, Petr Cech, Stephane Lichtsteiner, Aaron Ramsey, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Danny Welbeck all started the 2-1 win, with Lucas Torreira, Alex Iwobi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming off the bench later on as we strived to contain the threat that Blackpool brought us.
Can we expect the same again? Most definitely, and fired on by a vociferous home support, we could have a very trying game here, in our favourite competition.
In the same hand, we also have the gulf in class between the two sides, and even with our second string, we should have more than enough in our tank to overcome Blackpool and continue our FA Cup journey.
Konstandinos Mavropanos has finally returned to full training, and the young defender could make his first appearance under Unai Emery. Zach Medley is another youngster who could be in with a shout.
In midfield, Guendouzi could find redemption, and Jo Willock may be in with a shout after impressing in the Europa League this season. Mohamed Elneny could provide the experienced anchor for them both.
Emile Smith-Rowe is another who is back from injury, and the youngster may be on the bench for this one. Eddie Nketiah could lead the line, but form is crucial so Alexandre Lacazette may make the team. Bukayo Sako, fresh from making his PL bow, is in line for more minutes.
In terms of injuries, Rob Holding is obviously out for this, and Shkodran Mustafi won’t be risked as he is still nursing an injury. Mesut Ozil will miss out again too with his knee injury, and Nacho Monreal is another who won’t make the cut.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is expected back around February, and while Hector Bellerin is back in light training, the Spaniard has a way to go before first team action.
How this will play
Blackpool did nothing for around 60 minutes in the preceding Carabao Cup game, then for the last half hour, made us look foolish. They got the ball on the deck, used the wide areas and had some dangerous set-plays.
If we can get an early goal, it may take the wind out of the home crowd’s sails, but we scored two with no replay in October, before the Seasiders rousing finish, so an early goal might not quell them.
Our midfield is vital in stopping them haring forward and winning crucial second balls just outside the box. We need to be snappy and use our extra technique to overcome them, but it won’t be easy.
Last season was our first 3rd round exit since 1996. Let’s hope we have to wait that long before it happens again.