Many pitfalls in store for erratic Gunners

Sutton players in a drill during a training session ahead of tonight's FA Cup fifth-round clash against mighty Arsenal. The Gunners are at their most vulnerable level in years but Arsene Wenger has promised to pick a strong team as Sutton sense argua
Sutton players in a drill during a training session ahead of tonight's FA Cup fifth-round clash against mighty Arsenal. The Gunners are at their most vulnerable level in years but Arsene Wenger has promised to pick a strong team as Sutton sense arguably the mother of all upsets.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Struggling Arsenal and under-fire boss won't relish trip to fifth-tier Sutton's synthetic pitch

LONDON • A plastic pitch, a vulnerable heavyweight and minnows with giant-killing pedigree could conspire to produce one of the great FA Cup shocks when Arsenal visit non-league Sutton United today.

The north London football club approach the fifth-round tie reeling from last Wednesday's 5-1 humiliation by Bayern Munich in the Champions League and with manager Arsene Wenger closer to the exit door than ever before.

Sutton stunned Coventry, FA Cup winners 19 months previously, in 1989 and Micky Stephens, who played in that game and is now assistant manager, says they will approach Monday's match with a similar mentality.

"It's very difficult to stop them, but you don't want to give the players too much information," he said. "I didn't want to know too much when I played against Coventry. I wanted to know about the weaknesses, but not the strengths of the Coventry players.

"Everyone will know their strengths. All we can ask of our players is that they do their best."

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Sutton currently sit 17th in the fifth tier, 105 places below Premier League side Arsenal in the English football pyramid, and have reached the fifth round for the first time.

Their down-at-heel Gander Green Lane ground in south London will be at its 5,000 capacity today for a game that will present Arsenal with the unusual challenge of playing on a synthetic 3G pitch.

It will be a particularly special occasion for Sutton trio Craig Eastmond, Roarie Deacon and Jeffrey Monakana, all of whom came through the youth ranks at Arsenal.

"I will be nervous before the game because I am an Arsenal fan through and through," said Eastmond, 26. "As a team we would obviously like to win. We are not going to look at the Arsenal players and be like 'Oh my days' and be amazed by them."

While neutrals will relish the thought of Arsenal's handsomely remunerated stars squeezing into Sutton's poky away changing room, Wenger is grateful to have another game to focus on.

"I think the future gives you hope and the next game is part of the future," he said. "I do not want to talk any more about my personal situation. What is important is the next game. We had a big disappointment, we lost, and we want to win the next game."

Arsenal are expected to be without centre-back Laurent Koscielny after he limped off with a hamstring injury at Bayern.

But with no mid-week game to follow, Wenger has indicated that he will select a strong team.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Many pitfalls in store for erratic Gunners'. Print Edition | Subscribe