Sutton v Arsenal: Could the National League minnows inflict further misery on Wenger in the FA Cup?
Arsene Wenger has been feeling the heat since Arsenal’s dismal performance in the Champions League on Wednesday, resulting in a 5-1 defeat by Bayern Munich. But with an FA Cup fifth-round tie against National League side Sutton coming up on Monday, could life be about to get worse for the beleaguered Frenchman?
The FA Cup is a competition Arsene Wenger can actually boast a bit of success in, having won the trophy six times, most recently in 2015. Wenger will be keen to avoid an early departure after losing out to Watford in the quarter-finals last year, and with 10 points between them and table-toppers Chelsea, and their European hopes all but extinguished, this is pretty much the only game in town for the north Londoners.
The Curse of the FA Cup
Though you would expect a team of Arsenal’s stature to breeze past Sutton United, this is the FA Cup and as the adverts will tell you, anything can happen. Just ask Norwich City, who were dumped out of the competition by Luton Town in 2013, or Manchester United, who were beaten by Wigan in the same year.
In fact Sutton have form in this department, having themselves staged a coup to defeat then top-flight team Coventry City, back in 1989.
Showers in Sutton United's away dressing roomReuters
Arsenal are of course away from home on Monday, travelling south of the river Thames to The Borough. Not only will they have the tiny dressing rooms to contend with, manager Paul Doswell says they will be lucky to get warm showers since the boiler is “absolutely shot to pieces.”
He added: “I don’t think we’ve got a water softener either so I think the water is struggling through those three little pins in the shower head” - which is bad news for Olivier Giroud’s barnet.
Life in 3G
Perhaps more of a worry, however, is the plastic pitch at The Borough. Sutton were criticised back in January after knocking AFC Wimbledon out of the competition in a third-round replay. At the time, Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley said the pitch gave Sutton an unfair advantage.
In fact Doswell seems to agree, having said ahead of his team’s victory against Leeds United: “We’ve got a good chance because no one likes our pitch apart from us.
"We are very, very good on it – we’ve a certain way of playing, we play some good, quick football."
Though it will be of little comfort to Arsenal if they lose, Doswell said the money brought in by the match will mean they can refurbish the whole club.
Sutton United's away dressing roomReuters
The Alexis Factor
By Sutton manager Paul Doswell’s own admission, his side will “lose comfortably” if Wenger plays Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Though as we know, Sanchez has been granted leave to travel to Spain to deal with a legal matter, and there is some doubt around his inclusion.
Doswell said at the club’s media day: “If you see Ozil and Sanchez on the team sheet our chance doesn’t come beyond nought. Or you go the other way and you play a team of under-23s that are still internationals mixed in with one or two of their squad players, and that gives us that one percent chance that we'd be after.
"Our only chance is if he puts out an under-23 reserve side."
Or presumably if Laurent Koscielny is ruled out...