Arsenal begin a potentially season-defining month when they take on Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round at the Emirates on Saturday. Just three days following the game, the Gunners play the first-leg of their Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, while the next few weeks also sees crucial Premier league encounters against Everton and Tottenham which could go a long way to determining their participation in Europe’s premier competition next season.
Arsene Wenger will be looking to avoid Arsenal's second defeat to lower-league opposition this season, following their loss to Bradford in the Capital One Cup.
While the FA Cup is surely trailing in their list of priorities, the competition also represents Arsenal’s best chance to end an eight-year trophy drought.
Manager Arsene Wenger has said that they will be going into the contest with Championship side Blackburn with maximum focus, as they always do when playing lower-league opposition.
“In 16 years I don't think we have had [many] upsets against lower-division teams,” Wenger said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “That shows that we take the competition seriously.
“We prepare for the game like a final every time, and that’s why we have done reasonably well until now.
“We had one upset against Bradford, on penalties, but we did take that game seriously. I said that straight away after the match and we analyzed what happened at Bradford very deeply.
“They have proven since that they are a team of quality. We will take [Saturday’s] game seriously again, and with a huge desire to win it.”
Wenger could be boosted by the likely return to fitness of Thomas Vermaelen, although he may not be risked ahead of Bayern’s visit. Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere will again be missing, but both should be fit for Tuesday.
Like Arsenal, Blackburn are undefeated in their last five matches, having lost just once since Michael Appleton took charge last month.
The former Blackpool boss is the third manager the Lancashire oufit have had this season and there are signs that he could be the man to unlock the undoubted ability within the squad and challenge for a playoff spot.
Those players left over from their Premier relegation last season will want to forget their last visit to the Emirates, when they suffered a 7-1 annihilation last February.
D: Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Miquel, Monreal
M: Diaby, Arteta,
Gervinho, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain
D: Orr, Givet, Dann, Martin Olsson
M: Lowe, Murphy
Pedersen, Kazim-Richards, Marcus Olsson
Prediction: While they have had all manner of struggles in the Championship, Blackburn have plenty of quality in their side. Their defensive record has been excellent of late and, in Jordan Rhodes, they have a striker scoring goals aplenty.
Much will depend on the side that Wenger will select, with Bayern Munich surely prominent in his thoughts. But Arsenal have shown an ability to win while not at their best recently and they should secure a narrow win and avoid the need for a replay.
Arsenal 2-1 Blackburn
Where to watch: The FA Cup fifth round tie will kick-off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.
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