LONDON, February 19 – A daunting Champions League showdown with Barcelona quickly follows Arsenal’s FA Cup fifth-round clash with Hull City, but Arsene Wenger is unlikely to make too many changes to his preferred line-up on Saturday.
Wenger’s side are the Cup holders after successfully retaining the famous old trophy last season by thrashing Aston Villa 4-0 in the final.
And for a third season in a row Hull, now in the Championship, will be aiming to knock them out.
The Gunners came back from 2-0 down to beat them 3-2 in the 2014 final at Wembley and then won 2-0 in last year’s third round.
With Spanish giants Barca due to face Arsenal in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on Tuesday, it would hardly be surprising if Wenger was planning to rest the majority of his starting line-up when Hull visit the Emirates Stadium this weekend.
But the Arsenal manager insisted he would send out a strong team in a bid to secure a morale-boosting win before Lionel Messi and company arrive in north London.
“I will, as always, play a team who has a good chance to qualify,” he said. “The normal squad is involved on Saturday. It is a normal squad and we’ll play a usual strong team.”
One player who is set for a rare chance to impress is January signing Mohamed Elneny, who has yet to feature in the Premier League.
The Egypt midfielder made his debut in the 2-0 victory over Burnley in the previous round but the man recruited from Basel has not been used since, partly because of fitness concerns.
– Testing times –
“Elneny is fit. He is one of the players who could get a run there,” Wenger confirmed. “He’s mobile, he’s a very good player.
“He’s adapting at the moment and I think he’s there now. We’ll certainly see him against Hull. He has a chance to start.”
Wenger ruled out centre-back Gabriel Paulista because of a hamstring problem at a time when Laurent Koscielny is not yet fully fit.
The Frenchman could be pressed into action anyway however.
“Koscielny is doing well,” Wenger said on Thursday. “He has a test this morning and he looks positive.”
Hull manager Steve Bruce also has a need to keep his squad fresh for more testing times as the Tigers are aiming to get back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden cannot play as they are on loan from Arsenal but Eldin Jakupovic, Harry Maguire, Ahmed Elmohamady, David Meyler and Adama Diomande are expected to come into the side that moved two points clear at the top of the Championship with a midweek draw against Brighton.
Abel Hernandez, Hull’s 17-goal top scorer who has found the net nine times in the last 11 games, is among those expected to be rested, along with Scotland international Robert Snodgrass.
“We’ve got at least 16 games to go and a fully-fit squad to choose from, which is not something I’ve had here at this stage before as we head into a vital part of the season,” Bruce said.
“That bodes well for us in our aims for the remainder of the season but what we must do now is to maintain the high standards we’ve set in recent weeks because whatever side Arsene Wenger puts out, it will be a difficult one to beat.”