Arsenal 3 Sunderland 1: The FA Cup third round weekend began with Jurgen Klopp submitting a jaw-dropping team sheet at Exeter but there was no chance Arsene Wenger would follow suit.
Arsenal have never fallen at the first hurdle under his stewardship in this competition and always had enough quality on the pitch to dispose of Sunderland, who also resisted the urge to ‘do a Klopp’ and send out the kids.
The Gunners face Liverpool on Wednesday with the sole aim of remaining on top of the Premier League pile and Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Flamini were all given an FA Cup bye to be fresh for Anfield. Aaron Ramsey was given a rest too, until the 67th minute when he came on to replace teenager Alex Iwobi.
That was a contrast to Klopp, who took Adam Lallana with him to Devon but left him on the bench for the 90 minutes to watch Christian Benteke and the unknowns draw 2-2 with their League Two hosts.
Ramsey scored within five minutes of his introduction to overturn the early lead Jeremain Lens had given the Black Cats, who had made seven changes from their last Premier League outing.
Joel Campbell quickly cancelled that out and Olivier Giroud converted a third to make sure the holders took a step nearer to retaining the trophy.
Wenger’s focus turned to Anfield, home of the twanging hamstring, and predicted his Friday night television viewing had been more entertaining than informative.
“Yes, I watched the game but no, I did not learn a lot because the team that played is not the team who will play against us. They had many injures and I think they didn’t want more injuries before an important week.
“Was I tempted to do the same? Well, I rested a few players, but overall I feel we have less injuries than Liverpool at the moment. And don’t worry, Arsene is a very good doctor! They always heal when they play against us!” Arsenal are used to fighting on three fronts, and can put the Champions League to one side ahead of their return on February 23, and Wenger insisted he was a past master at rotating players during busy spells.
“It has positive impact and negative impact,” he said. “Once you’re on a roll, you can rotate, if you have no injuries. Everybody is mentally focused to pull in the same direction. It’s easier to keep everybody on board because you have always the next competition, and everybody thinks ‘I have a chance to play’. That is the positive. The negative is the fatigue factor and the injuries at the end of the season.
“You cannot say ‘we are a big club’ and not go for competitions. That is impossible. Bayern go for the cup every year, Barcelona or Real Madrid go for the cup every year. Why? Because they are big clubs. You can’t say ‘we move out of a cup competition, a national cup.
“You find you have a rhythm. You try to check who needs a breather, who needs a rest and you do it but you’re here to keep the squad focused and motivated when you have that many games.”
Sunderland have but one motivation now and that is to save their Premier League skins. The second-bottom strugglers travel to Swansea on Wednesday before a Saturday lunchtime date at Tottenham.
Manager Sam Allardyce is convinced such scheduling gives his players insufficient time to recover and forces him to shuffle his pack, as he did at the Emirates Stadium, when Jermain Defoe was left on the bench all afternoon.
Allardyce blames the Premier League for duff scheduling, with the Swansea game have been moved from Tuesday at the Welsh club’s request because they were in FA Cup action yesterday.
“I have got to be careful about spouting my mouth off here — I have already upset a lot of people but it is only about how passionately I feel about it,” he said.
“I am very professional at what I do, I know what I am talking about and I know what the players are going through because I’m a front-liner. I look them in the eye every day and I can see all the injuries everybody is picking up year after year, year after year. But players are asking for more and more (money) and perhaps there is a bigger demand — but you can only take so much.”
Cech 7; Bellerin 8, Gabriel 7, Koscielny 6, Gibbs 7; Chambers 6 (Arteta 67, 5), Oxlade- Chamberlain 6; Campbell 8 (Reine-Adelaide 81), Iwobi 7 (Ramsey 67, 7), Walcott 7; Giroud 7.
Subs (not used):
Debuchy, Monreal, Macey, Willock.
Pickford 8; Yedlin 7, Coates 6, O’Shea 6 (Jones 65, 6), Van Aanholt 7; Cattermole 6 (M’Vila 57, 6), Toivonen 6, Watmore 7, Graham 5; Lens 7; Fletcher 7 (Mavrias 76).
Subs (not used):
Borini, Defoe, Mannone, Beadling.
Martin Atkinson 6
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