Wenger and Arsenal must go to Hull and back to gain momentum
Whether they like it or not, Arsenal have to go to Hull and back this week. Some might say an FA Cup replay is the last thing they need, but perhaps there are benefits for a team that has been struggling in recent times.
Arsenal sat top of the Premier League on Jan.3, two points clear of Leicester City. Just nine games later, they're eight points behind Claudio Ranieri's side, having won just 10 of the 27 points available. Form hasn't so much gone out the window; it's nicked the television, an iPad, some jewellery and headed straight out the front door without a look back.
In that sense, another game to try and help recapture some confidence and fluidity isn't a bad thing. Even if Arsene Wenger is going to make changes from the team that drew 2-2 at Tottenham last Saturday, as a collective Arsenal desperately need to try and build some momentum.
The Arsenal manager hasn't given up on the Premier League, despite the significant gap between them and Leicester, and in this most topsy-turvy of seasons that's the right way to approach things. If the fact that the Foxes lead the pack at this relatively late stage of the campaign doesn't illustrate that you never know what might happen, then nothing will.
However, given the position they've put themselves in, Arsenal's most realistic chance of a trophy comes in the FA Cup. Wenger must realise that and it leaves him with a balancing act when it comes to his team selection. He traditionally makes changes for the cup, with squad players getting a chance to show what they can do, and that's likely to be the case on Tuesday.
For the first game against Hull, a drab 0-0 draw last month, he made 10 changes from the team that beat Leicester 2-1 in the league on Feb. 14. He has to consider the importance of silverware this season when picking his team for Tuesday night at the KC Stadium and the benefits of some continuity after the draw with the old enemy.
Arsenal's character and spirit has been questioned over the last couple of months and not without reason. The points tally from those games, and how some of those points were dropped, leaves them wide open to criticism.
However, we saw both sides of it at White Hart Lane -- Francis Coquelin's second yellow card showed this team hasn't shed its ability to self-destruct in ever more ludicrous fashion. Conceding twice in two minutes only compounded that, and it felt as if this was a game that could get away from a team who must have been fearing the worst, especially playing with 10 men.
Yet we know these players are more capable than recent form suggests, and to come back and get an equaliser showed there's still some mettle there. Alexis Sanchez hadn't scored a league goal since mid-October, and he celebrated his equaliser like a man who had thrown off the shackles. He's a player who tends to score in bursts, so Wenger must surely be considering playing him against Steve Bruce's Championship promotion hopefuls. Having found his range, he'd be keen to avoid sitting on the bench, rested for a more important game.
It's an odd week anyway, because if Arsenal win, they have another FA Cup game at the weekend against Watford. If not, it's a Premier League clash with West Brom.
There were promising signs against Spurs. Although they lost Coquelin to suspension, the introduction of Mohamed Elneny helped add some functionality to a midfield that had been ineffective in recent weeks. It would be good to see him get another go, albeit with a different partner due to the Frenchman's absence.
Up front Wenger will bring back Olivier Giroud to provide the recently returned Danny Welbeck with a little more recovery time, but he should pick as strong a side as he can for this one -- bearing in mind there may be some residual fatigue from Saturday's exertions.
Not simply because the FA Cup represents a good chance to win a trophy this season, but to help his team rediscover some rhythm just in case this unpredictable season opens up the Premier League door for them once more.