Arsenal to be 90 per cent strong
Arsene Wenger insists the FA Cup is a 'big priority' for Arsenal this season as he looks set to buck the growing trend by naming a strong side at Preston on Saturday.
Many clubs, not restricted only to the Premier League, have suggested they will make drastic alterations to their starting line-ups for their respective third-round ties as they look to manage fixture congestion and keep fringe players happy.
But Wenger, who has won the competition a record-equalling six times during his two-decade tenure as Gunners boss has said he will only make a couple of notable changes to his strongest side.
Arsenal have lifted the FA Cup 12 times in their history - a feat only matched by Manchester United - and won the competition back to back in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons.
The first of those consecutive successes, a 3-2 extra-time victory over Hull, arguably saved Wenger his job after a decade without silverware had seen calls for him to leave his post reach fever pitch.
With Tuesday’s 3-3 draw at Bournemouth leaving Arsenal fifth in the league and a difficult Champions League round of 16 tie against Bayern Munich on the horizon, the FA Cup could once again offer the best chance of success for Wenger this season - and he is not intending to take the third-round trip to Deepdale lightly.
“It is a big priority for us,” he said of the FA Cup.
“We have shown historically that we care about it, and it is a massive competition for everybody. To win the FA Cup is always a target each year.
“We know as well that after a congested Christmas period that the third round is always a tricky game and that is why I believe it is a mental challenge for the Premier League teams to prepare well and not have a bad surprise - especially when you go to a Championship team, it is always difficult.
“It’s a special occasion, a special trophy and in every single country, everybody dies to win the cup. I believe it’s still the same in England.
“Maybe in the past it was even more important because the European Cup wasn’t as important, but it’s a special occasion for me.”
Arsenal are currently without a host of first-team players - Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin all miss the trip to the north-west through injury.
Add to that doubts over the fitness of Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Lucas Perez, as well as Mohamed Elneny being away at the African Cup of Nations, and Wenger’s options become limited.
But, other than announcing he is set to rest goalkeeper Petr Cech, defender Laurent Koscielny and forward Alexis Sanchez, the Frenchman is keen to name a strong side against Simon Grayson’s men.
“I will take my first-choice team,” insisted Wenger.
“At the moment, (goalkeeper) David Ospina will start and he plays in the Champions League. Maybe two or three players will be rested.
“We will play with 90 per cent of the squad, I will rest Koscielny because he came off (at Bournemouth) with two problems in his thigh, of course Ospina will play, Alexis I will rest certainly, but the rest will play.”