We face Burnley away in what will be our last league in two weeks, because, as you may well remember, we miss the next BPL clash due to the involvement in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. A nice reason to miss a league match!
Truth be told, I was a little baffled to see a cup game take place on a weekend, something that will wreak havoc with our timetable by forcing us to skip a league game, but then I think all big games in the cups are played on either Saturday or Sunday (or even Monday, if BBC airs it). I distinctly recall we faced Everton on the weekend in the quarters last year, so I guess it’s not that surprising after all.
Anyway, back to the task at hand and we have an almost fit squad to take on Burnley.
Team news update
Diaby, Arteta and Wilshere should all be available:
“They came through the game on Tuesday well. They were at a good level physically and they should all be available from now on until the end of the season hopefully.”
As should Debuchy:
“Debuchy is alright. I can only play three players over 21 [in the under-21 league] so he is physically fit and ready. He lacks a bit of a competitive edge but overall he has no medical problems.”
However, Oxlade is still unavailable for “at least two more weeks”, while Szczesny and Koscielny face late fitness tests. No word was said on Ramsey, so I’m presuming the Welshman is ready to play. Whichever way you look at our current injury situation, this is a monumental achievement compared to last season. Should everyone come through the game unscathed (fingers crossed), Oxlade will remain the only player side-lined when we face Reading in the cup.
The new challenge will be to keep everyone happy, but that’s a pleasant headache for Arsene to have. With all the bits sorted out, time to put together a likely squad.
It was interesting to hear Arsene say he could only play three guys over 21 in the game against Stoke. It means he probably would have played Debuchy had the restrictions not been so harsh. Does that mean Debuchy is not yet ready to start games? I’d say yes. So I’d give the Frenchman another week or two and play Bellerin in the meantime. The Spaniard has been phenomenal as of late, so much so I’m really interested to see how things unfold once his French counterpart is fully fit.
Monreal should get the nod to start on the left, but who should do likewise in central defense? With doubts over Koscielny’s fitness the best decision for everybody concerned would probably be to rest him and play Gabriel.
Then again, changing a winning formula is hard and we all know how Wenger doesn’t like to shuffle his team and the back four in particular, although he has become more lenient in this regard lately (link, @7amkickoff).
Finally there’s a simple consideration for the future: Mertesacker is in the later stages of his career, so playing Gabriel together with Koscielny as often as possible during the run-in should also be on Arsene’s mind.
I’d personally go with a back four of Bellerin, Mert, Gabriel and Monreal, but, as I’ve illustrated above, there’s no telling what Arsene might do. Good thing is, he has options.
Gosh, we have EVERYONE available here. It’s definitely the first time this season, question is when we last had all the midfielders at our disposal. And so that means another selection headache for Wenger. I think Arteta and Wilshere aren’t still at the fitness level required, however I have no doubt they will make the bench. In the longer run, it’s interesting to see what the future holds for both of them.
They don’t look like regular starters at the moment, not for me at least. That’s despite Arteta being our captain and Jack being vital in the first half of the campaign. While with Arteta things look pretty straightforward (he signs a one-year extension and stays as experienced backup to Coq), the picture is not that clear with Wilshere. You can read more on the subject here (The Left Field, link).
However, even with Arteta and Jack in the category of “unlikely starters”, Arsene still has plenty of options in midfield, seeing as Danny Welbeck is eligible once again and I don’t even exclude a start for Theo Walcott.
Moreover, I think Ramsey on the right was a one-off, a stroke of genius from Wenger dictated by the opposition. Rambo was shifted wide to pressurise Moreno and Sakho (with more than a little help from Hector Bellerin) and it worked. I cannot, however, picture Aaron on the right on a permanent basis. His talents are better utilised in the middle of the park.
That means one of Ozil or Cazorla won’t avoid the drop (unless we drop Ramsey himself). Personally, I’d go with Coquelin, Ramsey and Ozil. You know I prefer Ozil to Cazorla under the striker, and when it comes to balance, Ramsey provides us with more than the Spaniard. But again, that’s only my view, I cannot tell what Arsene has in mind.
Giroud and Sanchez, obviously, both are on fire right now, but who will complement the trio on the right? Oxlade is the go-to guy under normal circumstances, in his absence we have: Welbeck, Walcott and one of our central midfielders.
The least obvious choice is the last: who do we shift out wide? Rambo was an exception as I’ve stated above, Cazorla was played in central midfield even with a fully-fit Ramsey and Ozil and the German himself only played wide right after his recovery. When it became obvious Ozil is excellent at 10 Wenger was, understandably reluctant to remove Ozil from there.
Then Walcott? To my mind playing Walcott means pairing him with a more conservative full-back: Chambers or Debuchy, in our case. Dropping an in-form Bellerin for the former will look kind of stupid, while playing Debuchy and Walcott is risky both because they haven’t played together ever before and because the Frenchman isn’t yet at 100%.
That leaves us with Welbeck and I’m perfectly fine with this option. Danny has pace, he helps Bellerin out a great deal and his inclusion means having an extra forward on the pitch.
For the first time this season I find the job of predicting a likely XI that hard. Apart from Ospina, Monreal, Coquelin, Ozil, Giroud and Sanchez, I’m not sure about anyone. Whether they will be involved, to what extent etc.
And that’s exciting. I wish I had such a headache every week. Much better than knowing you have around 18 players available and guessing everyone right simply because there are no real options. This time around the depth of our squad is such that even without Koscielny and Oxlade (worst-case scenario), we’ll still have to drop one defender and a couple of midfielders. Not any forwards yet, but we are getting there.
Looking at the players at our disposal you can’t help but think we are the overwhelming favourites to win this one. The confidence is flowing through the team, we found our cohesion, we got almost everyone back on their feet and we thrashed Liverpool to cap it all off. We should be too much for Burnley.
However, this doesn’t mean the players can take the game lightly. Burnley are a Premier League team, one fighting to stay up and they are perfectly capable of producing shock results (just ask City and Chelsea).
The right attitude is all-important. After that, we have enough quality to get the job done.
So come on you Gunners.