Arsenal face Leeds on quest for FA Cup silverware
London: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will rotate his squad as the Gunners open up a fourth front in their quest for a first trophy since 2005 with an FA Cup third round tie against Leeds on Saturday.
Arsenal have the first leg of a League Cup semi-final with another Championship side, Ipswich Town, to look forward to next week and Wenger is convinced his side is also in the running for the Premier League title, with Champions League action scheduled to resume next month.
As a result, the Frenchman has decided to make the FA Cup his lowest priority, even though the famous trophy was the last to be placed in the club’s trophy cabinet, and will therefore rest a number of first-choice picks, including forwards Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri.
That means Kieran Gibbs, the England international left-back who suffered an ankle injury, is likely to play for the first time since December 8, with Emmanuel Eboue also coming in for the suspended Bacary Sagna at right-back.
“We will rotate,” said Wenger. “There are going to be changes, many changes. It will be good to have Kieran back and Eboue will play as Sagna is suspended.
“I cannot give you the team yet. I have somewhere in my mind that I will make changes but I don’t know who will play. But I will certainly rest van Persie and maybe Nasri.”
France international Sagna begins a three-match ban after being sent off in the 0-0 draw with Manchester City on Wednesday for violent conduct, a decision Wenger was prepared to accept.
“I have seen it again and there is no way we can appeal,” he said. “For me it is a red card and we have to accept it. Bacary lost his temper and had too strong a reaction. He acknowledges that he should have kept control. We will not appeal.”
Leeds, who won 1-0 at Manchester United at the same stage of last season’s competition when they were in the third tier League One, are waiting on the fitness of forward Sanchez Watt, who suffered a head wound against Cardiff.
The teenager is on loan from Arsenal but has been given permission to play against his employers, for whom he has played only three times, in the League Cup last season.
As Leeds are involved in the race for promotion to the Premier League their manager, Simon Grayson, could be forgiven for fielding fringe men but that is unlikely to be the case.
“All the players in my dressing room will want to play in this game,” Grayson said. “Credit to them because they haven’t taken their eye off the ball and they can think about Arsenal now.
“It’s a great game against one of the best teams in the world and we’ll enjoy it. Then we’ll get back to the hard work of our league campaign.”
The two sides met in the 1972 final, with a goal from Allan Clarke sealing a 1-0 victory for Leeds.