Replays aside, the third round of the FA Cup concludes tonight at the Emirates Stadium with a clash between Arsenal and Leeds. This is a match with plenty of layers to unpick – for example, Leeds may be motivated by a potential cup run and the chance to spring a shock. Or boss Marcelo Bielsa may conclude that, with promotion to the Premier League being his main priority, the additional fixture pile-up isn’t what he needs. Equally, Mikel Arteta in the other dugout could see this as a chance to rotate his side and rest players after a packed festive schedule. On the other hand, with the Gunners well off the pace in the Premier League, could the Spaniard look at this as a chance to salvage a trophy from a season that might otherwise be wasted?
In truth, the weekend was light on real shocks. Some Premier League teams were eliminated, although in each case it was by top-half Championship sides with more motivation to win than their more illustrious counterparts. If Leeds were to turn over their London opponents here, it would certainly stand as the biggest upset of the FA Cup Third Round 2020. Below, we will look into whether it makes sense to back the upstarts, or to stick with what is expected – a win for the home side and higher-rank team.
Neither side to be at its best
The first sign that Arsenal may have a manager to get excited about came on New Year’s Day, as they produced an energetic first-half performance to strike down Manchester United 2-0. It was the team’s first win under Arteta, but – more than the result – the showing on the pitch hinted at a definitive shape and ethos that was missing all too often under Unai Emery and in the final spell of the Wenger years. With a few extra days’ rest compared to other top-flight sides, there is a chance that Arsenal will line up with a stronger side than is expected.
Nonetheless, it would be folly for the new Emirates Stadium regime to go with a full-strength side. Injuries have been mounting up for the Gunners, especially in defence, and it makes sense for Arteta to blend some experience with a number of younger players. Equally, Leeds have won just once in their last five league games – Bielsa has already stated that players will be rested to get them ready for the real target of winning promotion, so expect a much-changed side here. With both sides lacking a modicum of continuity, it’s worth backing Both Teams To Score (Toals, 4/6), as mistakes are likely to play a part here.
Gabriel to be Arsenal’s angel?
The use of the phrase “weakened side” can often be a little bit misleading. As Arsenal sit in tenth place in the Premier League, any changes in their starting XI may be considered to be potential improvements given what the “first choice” selection has been serving up for half a season. Also, with this being a cup game, it does present the likelihood that Brazilian teenager Gabriel Martinelli will get the nod in the home side’s attack – where he has been a revelation in his limited starts already this season. Comparisons with both Cristiano Ronaldo and a Duracell battery have been made.
One player who must surely be rotated out of the starting lineup is home striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. This makes it all the more likely that Martinelli will be the focal point for the home attack, and his odds of 11/10 (Betway) to score at any time in the match make for very interesting reading. Considering that he will be facing a makeshift Leeds defence, there’s every possibility that the 18-year-old will be among the goals again in a cup tie, to add to the four he has already scored in two knockout outings.
Hosts to win through on the night
It’s probably fair to say that the “magic of the FA Cup” is something that has been experienced by smaller and smaller numbers of people over the last few decades. Since top clubs realised that it offered an opportunity to rotate squads – and smaller teams, who have no less need to prioritise the bread-and-butter of league football, followed suit – things have changed. Cup football may still offer the chance of silverware, but it also presents the chance to lose key players to injury. And God forbid that you should draw a game – who needs an extra 90 minutes added to their season at this stage?
Neither side here could be considered in peak form, and this may not be a classic cup tie. With home advantage, and less divided attention than their opponents, it seems likely that Arsenal will have the better of this game, and we can see them progressing on the night. With that said, they’ve not been totally convincing across an entire game any time recently, so we can also see Leeds picking up a goal to make it a more nervous evening for the hosts. At 888, you can back the hosts to win 2-1 at odds of 7/1, and those are worth taking. The magic may not be there, but Arteta would welcome the chance to show Arsenal can still compete for honours.
Bets of the Day
Martinelli to score anytime (Betway, 11/10); BTTS (Toals, 4/6); Arsenal 2-1 (888, 7/1)