The thing about cup football is that a defeat means you are out. You can lose the odd league game and it might not matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Lose in the FA Cup and your dream of Wembley is over for another year. We've been dead lucky as Arsenal fans in the last two years as we haven't lost a single game in the FA Cup. As a result we've had a couple of our greatest Wembley days out including what must have been one of the most dominant ever displays in the Cup Final. Indeed, no other club in the history of the World's greatest knockout competition has ever won it as many times as Arsenal. This weekend we start the campaign to win three in a row. The chances of that happening are not great - law of averages says you've got to lose a cup-tie sooner or later - but, whatever happens, I want us to do everything possible to win it again.
Sunderland visit tomorrow and Allardyce has given every indication that he will be putting out a shadow team. He has used the media to attack the FA over scheduling and how they are de-valuing their own competition. I happen to agree with the sentiment - Liverpool will have played Saturday, Tuesday, Friday, Wednesday by the time they play us next week, which is not fair on the fans or the players. There is no doubt the FA has long treated the Cup with almost total contempt, starting with allowing Manchester United to excuse themselves from it back in the day. However, Allardyce has rarely fielded a first-team in the FA Cup almost whatever club he has been in charge of, and regardless of their position in the league. A man like Allardyce should be using the FA Cup to actually achieve something from his managerial career. By doing what he does he is just short-changing the supporters - his failure to take either cup seriously at West Ham was a large factor in his downfall where the Upton Park regulars were concerned. Fans of any team unlikely to challenge in the Premier League live for a decent cup run every now and again. Obviously I won't complain if he does put out a particularly weak team against us tomorrow, but I don't trust him to do it against Arsene Wenger.
There will be changes for Arsenal tomorrow. The problem is how many. We have such a threadbare squad at the moment that there isn't much scope. Ospina will probably come in, maybe Debuchy, certainly Gibbs and Gabriel. In midfield we could see Chambers and/or Arteta, but then we start to struggle. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Campbell will probably start, but we have little alternative to Walcott or Giroud to play through the centre. We could put Joel in there and get Reine-Adelaide or Iwobi on the wing but this is then moving towards too many changes at once as far as I'm concerned. There is also the small matter of Arsene wanting to give some respite to Ozil ahead of two of the toughest away games of the season in the next week. It is a headache for Wenger that Allardyce could take advantage of if he actually took the game seriously himself. Given that Fat Sam loves nothing better than going after Arsene or Mourinho it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he was lying about a weakened team.
As holders I want to see Arsenal come out and do a proper job tomorrow. We don't want any of the kind of performance we saw at Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup. That comes down to attitude and how the players apply themselves in the game. I would hope that they have pride in what they've achieved in the FA Cup these past two years and are seeking to do all within their power to defend the trophy again. The Premier League ceases to matter for 90 minutes tomorrow and it's all about the Cup. It belongs to us and I want to see it stay that way.