By Chris Harris
On the evidence of the first half of the season, Plymouth are too good to go down but perhaps not good enough to go up.
Arsenal's FA Cup opponents lie 15th in the Championship and, points-wise, are pretty much equidistant between the play-off places and the relegation zone. One win in eight has condemned Argyle to mid-table mediocrity but, make no mistake, Arsène Wenger's side cannot afford to be complacent on Saturday. Plymouth have been solid on their travels this term and have a decent Cup pedigree having reached the last four in 1984 and the Quarter-Finals two seasons ago.
One man making the 480-mile round trip from Devon to Emirates Stadium is Chris Errington of the Plymouth Herald. We asked him for the lowdown on Argyle before he set out. Read on for Chris' review of their campaign so far, their key players, Paul Sturrock's return to Home Park, the reaction to the Cup draw and Plymouth's chances of pulling off a shock.
THE STORY SO FAR
"Plymouth look too good for relegation but are probably not quite good enough for promotion. There have been a lot of changes in 2008, they started the year with a lot of promise but lost some key players in the January transfer window, particularly David Norris and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake who went to Ipswich and Wolves respectively.
"Since then Paul Sturrock has had quite a major rebuilding job and he has brought in 12 players since the end of last season, with mixed results it has to be said. This season they started very poorly with two points from their first five games and everybody thought it was going to be a long, hard season. But they had a very good turnaround in fortune in October and November time, then towards the end of November and the start of December it was a bit of a struggle for them. Overall they have had a pretty decent season so far."
THE MAN IN CHARGE
"The first spell Paul Sturrock had, he arrived in October 2000 when they were virtually bottom of the Football League and by the time he left for Southampton in March 2004 they were top of League One and on their way to promotion to the Championship. He basically took them from the bottom of the entire league into the Championship so when Ian Holloway left in quite controversial circumstances in November 2007, Paul Sturrock was the obvious choice. He was at Swindon Town at the time and there were rumours of money troubles there.
"Most of the fans were very happy when he returned and considering the sort of restrictions he had, as Argyle don’t get the biggest gates and haven’t got the largest budget certainly by Championship standards, he was the ideal candidate to come in. If he can keep them in the middle of the Championship I think within the next few years Argyle can think about pressing on and maybe aim for the Premier League."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"Some think Derby went up too quickly and the same would be true of Plymouth if they got promotion. It would be very, very difficult for Plymouth if they went up to the Premier League now. Until March last season they were in with a good shout, knocking around the play-offs, and they could have sneaked up. The structure of the club though isn’t quite right.
"Like I said in 2000 they were virtually at the bottom of the Football League and a lot of work has been done on the ground and the squad since then but the infrastructure of the club isn’t quite there yet. They lost some key players and haven’t quite been able to replace them yet. They really need to build for the long term. If you asked Plymouth fans if they could be in a position to challenge for the Premier League in the next two or three years they would agree it would be great."
THE EMIRATES EFFECT
"People in Plymouth were very happy with the Cup draw as you won’t be surprised to hear. They haven’t had a really juicy Cup tie for a long time and building up to the Third Round draw everyone was saying ‘it is about time we got a good draw’. A lot of the big guns had already come out of the hat when Arsenal came out and I think the whole of Plymouth were screaming ‘No 28’ at the TV. Sure enough it came out and everyone was delighted. It is a fantastic stadium and none of us connected with Argyle have ever really been up to the Emirates but this is everybody’s chance to go and see the stadium and play against one of the top teams in the country.
"There is a little bit of history that Plymouth hang on to as they played Arsenal in the late 1980s and conceded six goals in both games if I remember correctly. They are looking forward to the occasion, there are a lot of fans coming up and I think the M5 and M4 on that Saturday morning will be covered in green and white. They have also chartered a train from Plymouth to Finsbury Park which, quite amusingly, is stopping at Exeter along the way."
THE ONES TO WATCH
"There are an awful lot of players who have come up from the lower leagues and even the non-league and the star names that we had have moved on. Paul Gallagher, on loan from Blackburn Rovers, is the top scorer with seven goals and he has made a massive difference since his arrival at the end of August. He has played a reasonable amount of games in the Premier League for Blackburn and he has come here with a bit of class and ability. Jamie Mackie is a winger who signed from arch-rivals Exeter City. He made the step up from the Conference to the Championship and has done very well. He is in and out of the team a little bit but on his day is a very pacy right-sided midfielder who likes to create chances.
"Someone that you probably haven’t heard of is a Dutch defender called Marcel Seip who has been here for a couple of years now and in my opinion is one of the best central defenders in the Championship. He is not the biggest but he reads the game very well. He has pace and is a really strong tackler and over the course of the last few seasons has been a real key man for Argyle. I imagine he will be quite busy on January 3."
"They would love a draw. You would have 20,000 down at Home Park and it would be a real profitable exercise if it isn’t already. I can’t believe that they won’t have a go at the very least. They won’t go out all guns blazing but I would very surprised if they went up there and put every man behind the ball and held on for a 0-0. There is going to be about 9,000 Argyle fans going up there that day, which is an awful lot of people spending a lot of money, and I think the team will go up there and give their fans something to shout for. If they get a goal then who knows but they have got nothing to lose so why not give it a go?"
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Arsenal can’t be complacent because you can't afford to be in cup competitions. The Championship is a league that does have its detractors, I can partly understand why, but there are some decent teams there who sometimes fly under the radar. I don’t want to open old wounds but you only have to look at Burnley, who are a bit like Argyle, same sort of size club and they get similar gates. People don’t really know too much about them but they have got some decent players with a decent squad. If a Premier League side has an off day and a Championship side has a good day then there is always that possibility.
"I think if it was Argyle v Arsenal at Home Park with 20,000 Plymothians and a long trip down south for Arsenal then that would have been interesting. Up at Emirates you think that it may be a problem for Argyle to bridge that gulf in class. But it is the old cliché really, it is the FA Cup and you just never know. It could end up four or five nil or it could end up 1-1, who knows?"Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 30 Dec 2008