How Will Arsenal Line Up On Saturday?
After months of debating the comings and goings at Arsenal, thoughts now turn firmly to actual football with the League opener looming ever larger.
As is customary with Arsenal each year, injuries have started to rear their ugly head once more. Both Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott have withdrawn from their respective national sides. The former is carrying a calf strain while Theo’s got a bruised thigh. They join Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain who has an ankle problem while Mikel Arteta is also a doubt having sat out the Cologne game after picking up a knock in training.
Unlike previous years though, there’s better cover this time around. Per Mertesacker, Gervinho, Podolski and Diaby are all available and we should not be too weakened against Sunderland. Nevertheless, after a comparatively healthy pre-season these last-minute niggles will cause some concern to Arsene Wenger.
The inevitable question then is; how will Arsenal line up on Saturday? There was some speculation during the summer that Arsene may revert to the successful 4-4-2 formation of yesteryear but that notion has been put to bed in pre-season. Times have changed, possession in midfield is vital these days and I expect Arsenal to continue with the 4-2-3-1 they used throughout last season.
Wojciech Szczesny will certainly start in goal although Lukas Fabianski is keen to challenge his compatriot for that number 1 jersey. Thomas Vermaelen, likely to our new captain by then, will be partnered by Per Mertesacker in the centre of defense if Bosscielny fails to recover in time. Kieran Gibbs is sure to start at left-back while either of Jenkinson or Yennaris could be deployed at right-back. In fact, the right-back slot could be filled by Johan Djourou or even Francis Coquelin although I feel Carl Jenkinson has the best chance to feature there.
In midfield, Alex Song and Mikel Arteta should start in the deeper roles. If Arteta hasn’t fully recovered, Abou Diaby could play alongside Song but there’s also a possibility that the Ox may heal by then. If that happens, and based on his performances there in pre-season, there’s a good chance the youngster may earn himself a start on Saturday. My personal feeling is that Arsene was being cautious with Arteta last Sunday and the Spaniard will be ready for Sunderland.
There’s little doubt Santi Cazorla will start as the central attacking midfielder. Against Cologne, he didn’t look totally match fit and that’s understandable as he missed Malaga’s pre-season tour while talks were ongoing with Arsenal. Despite that, Arsene will certainly start him on opening day and allow him to lap up the attention from the Emirates crowd.
The other three positions in the front four are hard to call. Ideally Robin van Persie would start as the lone striker but with his future still very much in the air and the striker’s fitness not 100% at the moment, there’s every possibility the Dutchman will find himself on the bench.
I think Lukas Podolski will start in the central striking role flanked by Theo Walcott and Gervinho. This would allow Arsene to ease Giroud into the team and not burden him with taking over goal-scoring responsibilities immediately, allowing his compatriot time to adjust to a new more competitive league. If Walcott is unavailable, we could see Gervinho take his place on the right and Andre Santos start on the opposite flank.
Of course, this is assuming everyone comes back in one piece from the international friendlies to be played later today. Any more drop-outs would give Arsene a serious headache.
Below is my starting XI for Saturday, assuming there are no more casualties and the presently injured players do not recover in time.
Jenkinson / Mertesacker / Vermaelen / Gibbs
Song / Diaby
Gervinho / Cazorla / Santos
Subs: Fabianski / Djourou / Coquelin / Ramsey / Arshavin / Giroud / Van Persie
What would your line up be come Saturday? Drop your thoughts in the comments section.