Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has voiced his concern over Sutton United’s artificial pitch, which he fears may cause problems for his players during the FA Cup fifth-round match between the two teams.
Wenger is determined to avoid what would be one of the greatest FA Cup upsets of all-time against non-league Sutton, who play on a FieldTurf Vertex 3G pitch at their modest 5,013 capacity Gander Green Lane stadium. The Football League has banned such pitches, although the surface does pass Fifa’s Quality Pro standard.
Despite the artificial pitch, Arsenal are overwhelming favourites to win the tie and set up a home quarter-final against Lincoln Town — also of the National League — but Wenger, 67, has warned his players not to take Monday evening’s match lightly.
“There are some dangers if we do not prepare properly for Sutton,” Wenger was keen to stress ahead of the fixture.
“First of all there is the pitch. Secondly there is the enthusiasm. Thirdly, there is a danger that we are not ready mentally for a big fight. Ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch but it has already been accepted so we will deal with it.
Competition is about dealing with what you face, and against Sutton we face an artificial pitch. And so we will have to deal with it.”
The Frenchman revealed that his first-team had not been training out on the regular pitches at the club’s London Colney training ground, instead favouring sessions indoors on the club’s own 3G training pitches.
“But it’s not quite the same because it is a dry pitch and I have heard that Sutton have a wet pitch,” Wenger was keen to stress. “So they will water it before the game and it will be a lot quicker. It means that the weight on the joints is stronger — you cannot glide across the pitch and instead you have to block everything.
“So it makes the football a bit different. It makes the football accelerate a lot quicker and doesn’t slow down like in a normal game and we have to get used to that.”
Concerns over the potentially hazardous surface have ruled Danny Welbeck out of the tie, with the forward instead playing 70 minute for Arsenal’s Under 23 side in a 2-1 Premier League 2 defeat to Leicester City.
Welbeck, 26, has suffered two significant knee injuries in the past two years and only made a return to the first-team last month. “Glad to get 70 minutes today to build up my match fitness,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Plastic pitch at Sutton isn’t the best idea at the moment.”