The FA Cup third round is one of the most anticipated weekends of the footballing calendar and this year will be no different. One of the standout fixtures is Arsenal’s trip to face Preston North End at Deepdale. Only one division separates the two clubs and there will be confidence that the home side can get something out of the game, whether that will be progression or a replay. They are doing well in the Championship and managing to compete with sides that have a much bigger budget. Arsenal, on the other hand, are coming into this match with several key injuries and on the back of a concerning display against Bournemouth.
Preston are currently 11th place in the Championship and are just six points off of a play-off position. There is an outside chance that they will finish in the top six and that would be a great achievement. Although their main aim will be to progress every year and slowly build a side that could be good enough for the Premier League. This will be a good test for them as they are coming up against one of the best sides in the country and it is a match that they can feel relatively confident about. There is no pressure on them and their physical style could cause Arsenal some problems.
The visitors have fallen to 5th position in the Premier League after their local rivals managed to end Chelsea’s winning streak on Wednesday evening. The Premier League is the tightest it has been for years and there are six teams that are emerging as genuine title challengers. It is difficult to predict which four will clinch Champions League football for next season and that could change how the current top six approach the FA Cup. It won’t be seen as a priority and that will provide an opportunity to others to do well in the competition.
These two clubs have incredibly not met in competition since the 1960/61 season, meaning that there is relatively little for us to go off in terms of the head-to-head record. This came at a time when Preston were one of the more established clubs, but they have since plied their trade in the lower leagues. Arsenal have the better record historically, winning 30 of the 64 meetings, but that won’t have any effect on this weekend.
Preston’s last match against a Premier League side came in the fifth round of this competition during the 2014/15 season, as they lost 3-1 to Manchester United. They did take the lead on that occasion.
Tuesday evening marked the first time that Arsenal managed to come back from three goals down in the Premier League.
The former Manchester United trainee has been one of the better players for Preston this season. He turned 22 on Wednesday and will be keen to push on to the next level in 2017. He has the ability to play in the Premier League and will see this match as a good opportunity to prove that. This season, the defensive midfielder has averaged 3.8 ball recoveries per match, which shows his robust approach to his role. At times, he can be overly aggressive as highlighted by his tally of eight yellow cards. However, that is required in the Championship, especially when playing for a side like Preston. They are one of the few clubs that haven’t played in the Premier League and they are at a disadvantage for that reason. Preston must find other ways to compete and they normally do that by taking risks on players with talent. Pearson has been one of the bigger success stories in recent windows and considering Arsenal are expected to dominate possession, his defensive abilities will be required in this match. If he has a good game and competes well in midfield areas, Preston will have a chance of taking something from the game.
The Frenchman is in one of the best runs of form in his Arsenal career. Giroud is currently involved in a goal every 49 minutes in the Premeir League this season. That is the best rate of any player in the top five leagues that have been involved in five goals or more. That is incredible for a player that is much maligned among some sections of the Arsenal support. It has been great to see him recover after being replaced in the starting line up by Alexis Sanchez. Giroud has shown the battling qualities that many thought he lacked and he deserves great credit for that. This will be a fixture that suits him as it will be more physical and his aerial presence could be important, especially from set pieces at both ends. Preston will target set pieces as their best chance of causing Arsenal problems and Giroud will be crucial when it comes to defending those. Meanwhile, his hold up play will be important at the other end of the pitch as Preston may choose to be overly physical and rough up the Arsenal players.
Jermaine Beckford will be the only player missing for Preston as he continues his suspension. Anders Lindegaard could be given the opportunity to start, despite being only second choice at the club this season. Bailey Wright is unlikely to play as he is closing in on a move to Bristol City. Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle could be in line for their club debuts after joining from Dundalk.
Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil are both doubts for this weekend. Danny Welbeck is expected to feature at some point after recovering from his long term injury. Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Lucas Perez are all facing a battle to be back in time for this one. Francis Coquelin joins Santi Cazorla and Mathieu Debuchy on the long term injury list.
I’m going to predict a draw in this one. Preston have been improving on a weekly basis and will provide a tough test for Arsenal. They are a physical side and could unsettle the Gunners in what will be a fierce atmosphere at Deepdale. Arsenal are set to make several changes and it could lead to a disjointed performance. Preston will be up for this one and I think they could catch their Premier League opposition off guard. That said, I expect Arsenal to prevail after a replay.