Arsenal head into a tough fifth round FA Cup clash with Blackburn Rovers this Saturday possibly without their captain Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere whose fitness concerns may cause Arsene Wenger to rest them.
The Gunners have been criticized this season for the lack of leadership within their ranks after selling their last two captains Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.
But Arsene Wenger will feel he still has enough quality in his squad to progress in the cup and he might just be right. He’ll need these five players to stand tall this weekend if the North Londoners are to chase their hopes of ending their trophy drought.
1) Mikel Arteta is the vice-captain, behind skipper Vermaelen and there’s no doubt since his arrival in 2011 from Everton, he has been one of their best players and more importantly, their leader.
This season he’s picked up the slack in midfield out of his preferred position, since the departure of Alex Song and has been a revelation for his manager and his team. He just gets on with his job, doesn’t complain, and puts all his quality and commitment into doing his best for the club. He’ll be crucial to the result on Saturday.
2) Bacary Sagna has had an uncharacteristically inconsistent season – he’s become over his six-year career with Arsenal, one of their most reliable players.
His performance against Sunderland last weekend, playing out of position at centre-back with Arsenal’s 10-men trying to hold their lead at the Stadium of Light was nothing short of outstanding and, with that display, he redeems himself for his indiscretions here and there this term.
They’ll need him to produce more of the same against Blackburn.
3) Per Mertesacker will likely find himself paired with either Ignasi Miquel or Sebastian Squillacci this weekend as Laurent Koscielny is not quite fit and Wenger won’t want to risk him ahead of their clash with Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Either way, the German centre-back is going to have to command the back-line and he’ll be charged with organizing an Arsenal defence that has struggled against lower-league opposition this season.
Blackburn will be pumping balls into the box and trying their best to put pressure on 20-year-old Ignasi Miquel who will probably be preferred to the French flop and Mertesacker is going to need to use his experience and physical presence to cover the youngster and direct his performance accordingly.
Mertesacker doesn’t seem to be that vocal ordinarily but he’s going to have to find his inner Napoleon to rally the troops at the back. He’ll have Miquel on one side of him and new signing Nacho Monreal on the other. If he doesn’t take charge Arsenal could have another headless chicken fiasco on their hands.
4) Unlike the German defender, young goalkeeper Wojceich Szczesny does seem to have some fire in his belly. Despite his 22 years of age, he’s got a great command of his area and does seem to be vocal and intent on organizing his oftentimes hopeless defence.
He had probably his best game of the season so far against Sunderland last weekend and, like Sagna, he’s going to need to replicate that standard once again this weekend.
Since van Persie vanished last summer, Arsenal haven’t had that driver in the front seat – they’ve got some very gifted passengers in Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and, to a lesser extent, Gervinho.
5) But out of their entire attacking line the only player that really seems like he’s up for bit of handbags is Lukas Podolski – the German forward is probably the closest the Gunners have got within their ranks to the departed Dutchman. He’s feisty, he’s physical and he’s got exceptional quality in his left foot.
Giroud will likely be picked as striker but it’ll be the German who they’ll rely on to lead the line. His energy and determination to get forward on the left flank chase back to help out Monreal and whip balls into the box for Giroud will be paramount to Arsenal’s progression in the cup.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald