It’s not often a manager takes his side to the Allianz Arena and Gander Green Lane within in six days of each other. But that’s what Arsene Wenger will do, as his Arsenal side prepare for their Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round clash with Sutton United this weekend.
And as if the French boss wasn’t under enough pressure right now, defeat to the lowest ranked side still in the competition would surely end his 21-year spell in charge of the Gunners.
Nobody knows what kind of a team Wenger will take to Sutton on Monday night, but he’d be wise not to take this game lightly.
For starters, the U’s have defeated sides from all three tiers of the EFL, and in truth they’ve done so with relative ease.
As official betting partners of the FA, we were invited to Sutton’s open training session last night, and we managed to catch up with manager Paul Doswell ahead of the biggest game of his managerial career.
“Something strange is happening here.”
That was the main thing we took from his press conference. His side have headed into the last four rounds of this competition as outsiders, managing to see off the likes of Forest Green Rovers, Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United to set up this huge clash on Monday night.
And it’ll be something which no Arsenal player has ever experienced in their playing career.
In fact, the location of the ground (tucked away on a quiet road), the uneven car park, the traditional clubhouse and the basic changing rooms are the kind of surroundings you’d associate with a Sunday league team.
Doswell doesn’t shy away from this either – he knows it’s not glamorous. That’s why any money made from this incredible cup run will go solely on improving the facilities in and around the ground.
There’s a leaking roof in the clubhouse that needs fixing. The showers are lukewarm at best, and a new dartboard wouldn’t go amiss in the bar area!
In fact, it’s there where Wenger will likely do his post-match interview, as this picture suggests…
But it’s the most important area of the ground which leaves you standing back in admiration.
The 3G pitch is simply stunning, and unlike anything you’ve seen elsewhere in Non-League.
The worrying thing for Sutton is that it may favour the pros at Arsenal to play on such an impressive surface, but the hosts will boast the advantage of using it week-in, week-out.
One thing’s for sure though, the Sutton side will not be starstruck.
Plenty of Doswell’s squad have experience playing professional football, while those that haven’t will be relishing the opportunity to give the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott a taste of life in the lower leagues.
In fact, United actually boast a player with Champions League experience, coincidentally gained at Arsenal.
Craig Eastmond started in a midfield alongside Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky back in 2010, although he was released by Arsenal three years later after a series of loan spells.
One of Sutton’s key men with experience of playing with some of the biggest names in world football, Eastmond will step out on Monday night with a point to prove.
The home manager has a reserved space for his Bentley right next to the clubhouse. Wenger will have to walk from the car park to the stadium. The hosts are expecting roughly 5000 supporters to pass through the turnstiles to get behind their team. Around 700 travelling Gooners will be present. And Sutton will almost certainly head into this with the backing of every neutral fan across the country.
They’ve had a shooting session with Gunners legend Ian Wright, they’ve been put through their paces by Matt Le Tissier and Paul Merson, and they’ve dealt with the media interest with exceptional professionalism.
Sutton United are by no means here to make up the numbers.
Doswell doesn’t reckon his side are priced long enough for this match.
But given the giant-killing status they’re fast developing, our traders clearly aren’t taking any chances, making Sutton 16/1 to win.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing