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Mar 11, 2017 at 5.30pm UK at Emirates Stadium
LincolnLincoln City
Walcott (45'), Giroud (53'), Waterfall (58' og.), Sanchez (73'), Ramsey (75')
FT(HT: 1-0)

Preview: Arsenal vs. Lincoln City

Sports Mole previews Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final clash as non-league Lincoln City look to continue their dream run by claiming the scalp of Arsenal at the Emirates.

Lincoln City will come up against the biggest challenge of their dream FA Cup run on Saturday when they travel to the Emirates Stadium to take on Premier League high flyers Arsenal.

The non-league visitors have already surpassed all expectations by reaching the quarter-finals of the competition, but it would take one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup history for them to make it to Wembley.


Arsene Wenger subs off Alexis Sanchez during the Champions League game between Arsenal and Bayern Munich on March 7, 2017© SilverHub

Heading into mid-March, Arsenal are once again in the position of the FA Cup being their only realistic hope of silverware this season.

It is a competition which has played a rich part in the club's history - indeed, no team has ever lifted the oldest trophy in world football more often than the Gunners - but it is also the only major piece of silverware they have won since the Invincibles of 2003-04.

It is no secret that a growing contingent of Arsenal fans are exasperated with the club's repeated failures season after season, and speculation over manager Arsene Wenger's future has reached the point that club chairman Sir Chips Keswick felt it necessary to give the Frenchman a vote of confidence in the wake of their humiliating Champions League exit.

The manner of Arsenal's 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday heaped more pressure on the shoulders of both Wenger and the team, with a bright start being undone by a second-half collapse that saw the Gunners ship five goals in the space of half-an-hour in front of their own fans.

Hope of a comeback was always slim, and refereeing decisions did not go Arsenal's way on the night, but ultimately the players themselves have to take the bulk of the responsibility for their complete capitulation as they fell to the heaviest aggregate defeat by an English club in Champions League history.

Focus must now turn to the FA Cup, and Arsenal find themselves in a similar situation to last month when they took on another non-league side - Sutton United - after being thrashed by Bayern in Europe.

The Gunners did not exactly blow Sutton away on that occasion, but they returned to winning ways with a 2-0 triumph that safely saw them through to the last eight for a fourth consecutive season.

Even though Arsenal have lost five of their last seven games in all competitions, they are still overwhelming favourites to progress into the semis, with their home advantage only strengthening their chances of ending Lincoln's dream.

It will be Arsenal's first home FA Cup game of the season, but it is worth noting that their last Emirates Stadium outing in this competition saw them knocked out by Watford at this stage last term, while in all competitions they have now lost two of their last three at home.

Another defeat on Saturday would see them fall to back-to-back home losses for the first time in a year, when they suffered a similar run of poor form as they were eliminated from the Champions League and FA Cup while also slipping up in the Premier League.

With Arsenal currently sitting fifth in the top flight and playing catch-up for the Champions League places, it could well be down to the FA Cup to save Wenger this season. By the same token, though, an almost-unthinkable defeat to their non-league visitors would surely be a death knell for his time at the club.

Recent form: WWW
Recent form (all competitions): LWLWLL

Lincoln City

Lincoln City boss Danny Cowley at another press conference in February 2017

A trip to a stadium like the Emirates is usually a third-round dream for clubs in the lower reaches of the football pyramid, so to be making the trip with only 90 minutes separating them from Wembley will be scarcely believable for these Lincoln players.

The Imps have already written themselves into modern-day FA Cup history by getting this far for the first time in their 133-year existence, while they are the first non-league side to make it into the quarter-finals since 1914.

Of course, Saturday poses their biggest challenge yet and it is not one many realistically expect them to overcome, with 88 league places separating the two sides.

However, Lincoln, who were knocked out in the first round by Whitehawk last season, have made a habit of upsetting the odds in this year's competition, eliminating Championship opposition in the form of Ipswich Town and Brighton & Hove Albion - the latter of whom could well be a Premier League team next season - before stunning Burnley at Turf Moor in the last round.

The magnitude of the win over Burnley should not be understated simply because the Clarets are not as glamorous opposition as the likes of Arsenal. Sean Dyche's side have amassed as many points at home as Arsenal in the Premier League this season, and they named a strong side for the match too.

By manager Danny Cowley's own admission, Lincoln would only win this fixture once in a thousand attempts, but the stars may well have aligned for them considering the turmoil Arsenal seem to be in at the moment. Indeed, Arsenal legend and former record goalscorer Ian Wright believes that it is the worst period in the club's history.

While such apocalyptic statements may be a little over-dramatic, the form book certainly gives Lincoln more encouragement than they may have otherwise had, and the Imps themselves are in the winning habit having picked up eight victories during an ongoing 10-match unbeaten streak.

While Arsenal were being ripped apart by Bayern in midweek, Lincoln were on the more enjoyable end of a four-goal winning margin as Lee Angol marked his debut with a hat-trick to help them to a convincing victory over Braintree Town - not quite Bayern but the result was a damn sight better for the team's morale.

It was a win that stretched Lincoln's lead at the top of the National League to six points as they bid for a return to the Football League, and should they hold off the chasing pack then even defeat this weekend would not spoil what has already been a historic campaign.

Of course, for all the encouraging signs, the chances are that Arsenal will showcase their superior quality to an extent that there is not much Lincoln can do, and Cowley is expecting a backlash from the Gunners following their belittling by Bayern.

However, in a week which has already seen Barcelona pull off a miracle to progress past Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, who would rule out a similarly unlikely story unfolding at the Emirates?

Recent form: WWDWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWDDW

Team News

Mesut Ozil looks relaxed on the bench during the Champions League game between Arsenal and Bayern Munich on March 7, 2017© SilverHub

Mesut Ozil could make his return to the starting XI this weekend having featured as a half-time substitute against Bayern following a recent illness.

Danny Welbeck was due to start the match in midweek but pulled out in the warm-up due to an illness of his own, while Alex Iwobi is suffering from a similar problem and both are doubts for this match.

Lucas Perez was handed a rare start in the previous round against Sutton and rewarded Wenger with a goal, so the Spaniard could once again make the team should the likes of Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez be rested.

Per Mertesacker could make his first appearance of the season having been an unused sub in the last two rounds, with Laurent Koscielny likely to be rested regardless of his controversial sending-off against Bayern.

Lincoln do not have the luxury of a deep enough squad to rest players, although Cowley is expected to make changes to the side that beat Braintree with Matt Rhead amongst those to be recalled.

Nathan Arnold came off the bench to score the fourth in that midweek win and is likely to be restored to the starting XI, while loanee Angol's debut hat-trick has surely earned him another starting role.

Turf Moor hero Sean Raggett will be hoping to write another line in the competition's history books having scored the late winner against Burnley in the last round.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Debuchy, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey; Walcott, Perez, Ozil

Lincoln possible starting lineup:
Farman; Wood, Waterfall, Raggett, Habergham; Arnold, Woodyard, Power, Hawkridge; Angol, Rhead

Head To Head

These two sides have met each other 26 times before, but this will be their first clash since March 1915.

Lincoln are unbeaten in the last three meetings with the Gunners, winning two of those having previously gone 10 games without a victory in this fixture.

Overall, Arsenal have won 13 of the 26 meetings, drawing seven and losing six, while they have never lost a home match against the Imps (W10 D3).

Sports Mole Logo

We say: Arsenal 2-0 Lincoln

Pretty much everyone not of an Arsenal persuasion will be rooting for Lincoln to win this one, but it may well be a step too far for the non-league outfit. Arsenal's form puts a bit more of a question mark over the result than there might otherwise be, but the Gunners rarely slip up in matches like this.

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Lincoln City boss Danny Cowley at another press conference in February 2017
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