PERHAPS there won’t be such blatant disdain for the FA Cup next season from Mauricio Pochettino.
The Southampton manager brought unnecessary scrutiny on his own shoulders last weekend by leaving out his big guns for the fifth round tie at the Stadium of Light, when the deck was stacked for the Saints to reach the quarter finals of the competition.
Finishing a meaningless eighth in the Premier League table is clearly more important to Pochettino than the Wembley aspirations of Southampton supporters.
Pochettino’s camp will doubtless cry hypocrisy at such criticism, given that Gus Poyet made nine changes himself.
Yet circumstances forced Poyet to embark upon such dramatic tinkering to his starting line-up – preserving energy and fitness levels among his first-choice XI was paramount for the Premier League survival battle and the Capital One Cup final, with a hectic period of fixtures on the horizon.
On the evidence of the hunger displayed by Sunderland’s fringe players too, Poyet needed to give them an outlet for that determination to impress.
But the quality of Sunderland’s performance against Southampton leaves Poyet with dilemmas tomorrow.
Doubtless, the bulk of the side which succumbed with 10 men against Hull City a fortnight ago will return, but several made their case to be retained for the trip to the Emirates.
Chief among them was Lee Cattermole.
This is the first game where Poyet has to pick between January arrival Liam Bridcutt and a fully-fit Cattermole as the holding player and there has to be a suspicion that the latter will prevail in the battle.
With Bridcutt cup-tied, Cattermole is already pencilled into the starting line-up at Wembley in nine days and after the Teessider’s performance last weekend, there seems little reason to shift him from that defensive midfield slot.
Craig Gardner, Nacho Scocco and Connor Wickham could all come into Poyet’s thinking too, but Emanuele Giaccherini may be a wild card to feature.
Keeping possession is all-important at the Emirates and that may favour Giaccherini – freeing Fabio Borini up for a rare outing in his preferred central striker role.
One player certain of his place is Santiago Vergini, with the Argentina international facing a baptism of fire on his full Premier League debut.
Vergini looked a far more composed figure against the Saints, yet this is a different level and a different kind of test altogether in countering the pace, movement and quick passing of Arsene Wenger’s men.
Doubtless, Sunderland’s game-plan will be for Vergini and John O’Shea to form a solid base which can soak up the pressure from the Gunners before the Black Cats look to pick out the gaps on the counter-attack.
It’s a strategy which has seen Sunderland claim goalless draws at the Emirates in three of the last five years.
But this current Arsenal side seems to have more resilience at both ends of the pitch after proving to be genuine title challengers.
The question mark is how Wenger’s side react to their midweek Champions League setback against Bayern Munich.
Arsenal certainly looked to be more of a genuine threat to one of the Continent’s elite than Manchester City had proved to be 24 hours earlier, before Wojciech Szczesny’s sending-off left their hopes of qualifying for the quarter finals in tatters.
Playing for almost an hour with 10 men, particularly against a Pepe Guardiola side who move the ball around so effortlessly, will have left Arsenal drained though.
Tomorrow will be a test of both Arsenal’s physical and mental recovery. They will not relish facing Sunderland either after Poyet’s side have gone six games unbeaten on the road in the top flight.
If the Black Cats can extend that run to seven this weekend, it will be hugely significant both in the battle against the drop and in handing Sunderland a timely confidence boost ahead of Wembley.
Verdict: Home win
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