FA Cup Final: Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Last Game for Ozil, Alexis, the Ox or Maybe the Manager. Can the Cup Final Save Arsenal’s Worst Season Under Wenger?

That all depends on your perspective, and, of course, we actually have to lift the trophy, no mean feat against a Chelsea side that won the league title at a canter and seem well poised for the domestic double.

We can trot out the statistics and perhaps history is on our side.  With a win–the club’s third in four seasons–Arsenal would once again edge ahead of Manchester United in the total tally.  Both clubs have won the FA Cup 12 times and this would be lucky number 13 for Arsenal.  Manager Arsene Wenger has lifted the trophy a record six times–alongside George Ramsey’s similar total–even if the Aston Villa manager won his six over 37 years, lifting it for a final time in 1920.  Wenger needed less than 20 years to win his half dozen.  Lucky number seven would see Wenger stand alone in that department.

Wenger, of course, manages in the modern era and the domestic cups are considered consolation prizes these days.  Over his tenure, as he delivered Champions League football with top-4 league finishes, the importance of the FA Cup has diminished.  Like it or not, the money and prestige of competing for the top European cup has become the bigger prize.  This season, for the first time since 1998, Arsenal are on the outside looking in.  75 points in the league is a very respectable return, but it wasn’t enough–especially as Chelsea turned in the highest winning total in over a decade, 93.   Stopping them from taking a domestic double would be very nice indeed, but would it be enough to save Wenger from the ire of disappointed Gooners?  Would it be enough to keep him and some of his best players from seeking greener pastures–and Champions League football–elsewhere?

These debates must go on hold until after we win the cup, hardly the easiest task despite a very nice run-in which saw Arsenal win eight of nine matches after switching to a three at the back formation, conceding just six goals over that stretch.  It was just such a switch from Chelsea’s first year manager, Antonio Conte–ironically, after an early season loss to Arsenal–that turned their season around in even more impressive fashion.  After the 3-nil defeat at the Emirates, Chelsea won their next 13 league matches to distance themselves from the chasing pack, the first six without conceding a goal.

It was a remarkable recovery and many players benefited from the change in formation.  With a spine of David Luiz–usually flanked by Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill–N’golo Kante and Nemanja Vidic in midfield and Diego Costa up front, several Chelsea speedsters, including Pedro, Victor Moses, Marcos Alonso and Eden Hazard flourished in the wider positions.  Conte’s rejigging, like Wenger’s later in the season, was expedient at first but then allowed for more expansive football with a measure of attacking verve.

In recent matches, Chelsea have conceded more goals (13 in their final ten matches) but they were still able to put the title to bed with a couple games left to play, turning their focus more towards how to celebrate the title.  It all culminated in the gaudy substitution of their team captain, John Terry, in the 26th minute of his last game for the club, to match his shirt number.  It was stomach turning stuff for Gooners who have had to endure his self-aggrandizing antics over a long and torturous career.  Memories of him crying over his missed penalty in the Champions league final or being knocked senseless by the foot of Abou Diaby in the league cup final are happier ones for most Arsenal supporters.  Repeating those sorts of scenes in this final–and emerging with the victory–would go a long way towards soothing many a long suffering soul wearing the red with white sleeves.

How can Arsenal do it?  In addition to facing a formidable Chelsea team–Terry will surely only get a bench seat–Wenger faces his own problems with few bodies available in central defense.  The FA has denied the appeal of Laurent Koscielny’s red card from the final league match of the season so the man who wore Arsenal’s arm band for most of the season is out.  Gabriel Paulista hurt his knee in that same match and cannot play.  Question marks also hang over Skhodran Mustafi and Kieran Gibbs.  The former missed the final league match due to illness which some are claiming was an aftereffect of a concussion.  Gibbs missed out with a thigh injury and neither were spotted in the final training session before this match.  Thigh issues have also affected Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has missed three matches on the trot and Alexis Sanchez who has soldiered on–and scored four goals in those same three matches–but has been seen clutching at his own thigh on several occasions.  Given all these issues, team selection will be a headache for Wenger.

While some are suggesting that the defensive injuries might force a return to a four man back line, I don’t think Wenger will opt for it, especially if Mustafi cannot play.  Simply put, pairing young Rob Holding and our team captain, Per Mertesacker–having only played as a substitute in the final pair of matches after sitting out the entire rest of the season–while pushing the full-backs into their more expansive attacking and defending duties would put too much strain on the center two.  Instead, I believe it will be a back three of Holding, Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal with Hector Bellerin and Gibbs as our wingbacks.  Although David Ospina was our “cup-keeper” this season, Petr Cech started the last two FA cup matches so I believe Wenger will let Cech play against his former club.  Hopefully, such a set-up allows Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey room to move the ball in central midfield, along with Mesut Ozil and Alexis who will nominally start as wide attackers.  The only real question–in my mind at least–is who gets the call to lead the front line.  Olivier Giroud was the answer in the previous round against Manchester City although we looked far more effective when Danny Welbeck came on as a substitute.  Here then is my list of the team I believe Wenger will choose:

Cech

Holding–Mertesacker–Monreal

Bellerin–Xhaka–Ramsey–Gibbs

Ozil–Giroud–Alexis

Substitutes: Ospina, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Welbeck

We should remember that–like in the semis–this is a match that could go 120 minutes so substitutes could play prominent roles and long stints.  If Gibbs cannot go, the Ox could switch sides and play as a left wing-back and offer support to Bellerin, Xhaka and Ramsey with their midfield and tracking back duties.  If we could stake ourselves to a lead, so too could players like Coquelin and Elneny off the bench.  If we need goals, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi and Welbeck (or Giroud if DW starts) might be the men for the job.

To me, this FA Cup feels different.  Maybe it’s because of the strength of the final four teams (four of the top five league finishers), maybe it’s because of the two finalists and the differing trajectories of their seasons.  Arsenal are clearly the underdogs here, their long-time and under-fire manager taking his beleaguered bunch into battle against a revived Chelsea with a younger and more exuberant (overbearingly so, at times) first season manager poised to take them even higher.  The romance of the cup is all about upsets, however, and Wenger and Arsenal’s–if they can pull it off–would be a shot of redemption the club sorely needs.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

 

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The pain and joy of Manchester

On Monday afternoon I was standing in a queue at a Manchester post office. A lady was saying she would love to go to the UEFA cup final but just did not have the money for it. The post office worker said: so you support United? Yeah she said; you too? No he said, I support a proper club, Liverpool. Ah, she said, you better start winning some league titles because you have some catching up to do. We won the CL four times, hey, he said. Silly, innocent banter on a sunny Monday afternoon. I almost joined in to whisper ’49 undefeated, playing football the Arsenal way’, but thought better of it.

Eight hours later a sad, brainwashed fool decides to walk into a crowd of predominantly young and totally elated fellow human beings and blows himself up with the aim to cause maximum destruction. And less than 48 hours after that, the UEFA Cup final has to go on regardless. Sometimes I just don’t get our lives – the way we have to live with this constant knowledge that fellow human beings can lose any value for life and become killing machines; or the way everything just has to go on as to not let them think they won.

I did only watch the second half of the UEFA Cup final and only with half an eye. Mourinho did his usual trick of eliminating any attacking threat Ajax could have by building a fortress around the box. Boring, predictable, but so often effective. A lucky deflection was a priceless gift for the Manchester contingent of labourers; and we all knew that the game was played after that. Mourinho’s team, so toothless in the league (just like us), have added two cups this season and also qualify for the CL.

But the city that is enjoying exceptionally warm weather at the moment is of course not a happy place. No more light-hearted, frivolous banter for quite a while. We just have to face and feel that pain for a while, whether we like it or not.

By TotalArsenal.

No need to comment BKers – just wanted to say this. I am sure 17HT’s final preview of the sseason will be out soon.

 

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Arsenal-Everton. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Beat the Merseysiders–Both Blue and Red (Go Boro)–and CL football is Ours.

It’s the end of the season–but it isn’t–given that we’ll be playing in the FA Cup final next Saturday.  We cannot look ahead, however, and Arsenal must focus on our home match vs Everton–which we must win, while perhaps keeping an eye on Anfield–where we hope that Middlesbrough can get a result at Liverpool.   If all that goes our way, another season of Champions League football would be the reward.  There’s also a scenario where Manchester City could fall out of the top-4 positions, but we would have to win while they lose at Watford–all in a fashion where a five goal differential is reversed.  At least we have something to play for and stranger things have happened.

In fact, we only have to look back to this round of matches last season.  Spurs were set to finally finish ahead of Arsenal, only needing a result at already relegated Newcastle.  That one ended in a 5-1 drubbing and Arsenal sneaked in for a 2nd place finish in the league with a home win over Aston Villa.

Finishing ahead of our arch rivals put the tiniest bit of gloss on a disappointing season where all the big clubs faltered and the title was there for the taking, but for plucky little Leicester City, of course.  The regret was somewhat mitigated by the fact that we looked fairly well positioned for this season, though we all knew the big money clubs would throw stacks at their own troubles.

Chelsea did just that and seem reasonably worthy champions under Antonio Conte.  We’ll deal with them next week when we preview our attempt at preventing them from winning a domestic double at Wembley.  Spurs now have finished ahead of us, winning that honor in emphatic style with a victory in the final North London derby held at White Hart Lane.  Despite finishing a distant third among the London clubs, there are a couple of bright spots.  Manchester United will finish below us in the league–despite hiring the most despicable character in all of football management, Jose Mourinho, AND spending massive amounts of money–but they still have a shot at Champions League football if they can beat Ajax in the Europa Cup final.  With a win over Everton we would finish on 75 points; already we’ve beaten last season’s total of 71.

Everton, on 61 points, will finish 7th whether they win, lose or draw.  In other words, they have nothing to play for.  Don’t try to tell that to Ronald Koeman, a manager who seems to enjoy getting one over on our own Arsene Wenger.  In 2007, managing PSV Eindhoven, Koeman knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League in the round of 16.  At Southampton, his teams took several points from Arsenal that might well have served us.  The four we shipped to them last season put a real dent in any challenge we might have made in closing down Leicester.  Finally, Everton’s 2-1 win in this season’s reverse fixture back in December ended Arsenal’s long unbeaten run and popped a sizable hole in our confidence ahead of further disappointing results.

Additionally, Everton are replete with quality players who might be trying to put themselves in the shop window for a summer move to a bigger club or richer contract.  Most notably, center forward Romelu Lukaku looks primed for a big money move.  The towering Belgian has 24 league goals–just one ahead of our own Alexis Sanchez–and looked strong for the league’s Golden Boot award until Harry Kane scored four in midweek.  Still, a goal or two wouldn’t hurt his highlight reel.  We shouldn’t put all our defensive focus on Lukaku, however, as his countryman Kevin Mirallas is a very talented attacker as well.  Enner Valencia can score goals too and 18 year old Tom Davies has impressed with his work-rate and ability to pop up in dangerous spots.  Leyton Baines and Ross Barkley are always good at shots from distance, sending in crosses and otherwise playing in their teammates.  Their corner kicks and set pieces could be a route towards goal given veterans like Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams to aim at.

Wenger will try to counter Everton’s threat while also priming his players for the cup final next Saturday.  This match comes at the end of a difficult run of five games in two weeks so tired legs might need to be rested and a couple of players could be given run-outs to see if they can do a job at Wembley.  Still, with the top-4 places on the line and nearly a full week of rest before the cup final, I expect Wenger to play his strongest available team.  Injury news suggests that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still out, Laurent Koscielny could play and that Aaron Ramsey has recovered from the injury that saw him subbed out in the 2-nil win Tuesday night vs Sunderland.  I think the latter two will both start and that we’ll see just one change (Koscielny for Gibbs) from the group that went in the last one.

Cech

Holding–Mustafi–Koscielny

Bellerin–Xhaka–Ramsey–Monreal

Ozil–Giroud–Alexis

Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Coquelin, Elneny, Walcott, Welbeck

Of course, some will argue that greater rotation is needed and that maybe some of those who have been in training ought to get a shot too.  Players like Mathieu Debuchy, Lucas Perez and Per Mertesacker get mooted (or at least copied and pasted) into some observers’ preferred line-ups.  Should Wenger mix things up at this late date?

No matter who plays it’s a must-win game.  We need to give ourselves a shot at a top-4 place while hoping Boro can somehow eke out a result at Anfield.  Moreover, failing to beat Everton would undermine our confidence ahead of the cup final and tinge what’s sure to be an already uneasy lap of honor after another disappointing league season and loud calls for Wenger to end his long reign at the club.  All of that comes after the match is over.  While we play we must stay in the moment.  Instead of focusing on the difficulties this past season presented, Arsenal should look to build on their recent run of good results: seven wins from eight matches since switching to a 3-4-3 formation.  For the manager and his players, it’s one last chance to hone that style of play before the cup final.  Difficult as it might be, we need to neither look forward towards Wembley nor backwards at the season as a whole.  We must also shut out any news of scorelines from other stadia around the league that might excite or mute our focus on the football being played.  Concentrating on the task at hand–finishing off the league season with a victory over Everton, the only thing Arsenal will have any power over come Sunday at 3 pm–is all that really matters.

Go on then…

by 17hbighburyterrace

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Wenger In In In In In In In!

Weird time to be a Gooner right now. My good friend E keeps texting me before games with: ‘Hope your team wins, Wenger Out Out’. E is a bright and loyal Arsenal supporter but he clearly has had enough of Wenger. Fair enough.

Yet we are playing a fricking FA Cup final in just nine days. Why are we not a lot more happy right now? Don’t bother to answer me as I have heard enough reasons over the last few months and indeed years. All valid but they do not work for me.

There was an interesting bit by Garth Crooks about Mesut Ozil in his BBC team of the week section after last weekend. He believed that Mesut would fit better at Spuds as they appreciate football more whereas Arsenal supporters only care about winning, he bluntly wrote. Clearly Mesut would never accept such a demotion to the swamp dwellers but does Crooks have a point re differing ways of appreciating football, and indeed a quality footballer like Ozil?

Ozil really divides the supporters and not just ours. Many a non-Arsenal supporter tells me how they don’t rate Ozil but luckily there are still some real football connoisseurs out there who do more than watch MOTD summaries.  😉

I do think we have lost perspective, though, to such an extent that we have started to take our team and manager for granted. Once we start doing that, dark days will be upon us. We have become a fanbase that rather focusses on removing Wenger than looking forward to a FA Cup final, and with that an opportunity to beat the Chavs at Wembley. There is also an opportunity to become the all time record holders of the most famous football cup in the world.

If the latter is not a reason for your personal happiness and eager anticipation, then maybe it is time to take a breather from the club and football as a whole. Or you could join me and fellow BKers who are still fuelled by the desire for Wenger to hold up the cup as the most successful FA Cup manager in the history of the game.

By TotalArseneWenger 😉

 

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Xhaka the Controller, Rambo the Connector, Ozil the Creator and other post-match Observations

You have to give it to the boys. It is not easy playing catch up when the games are running out. Sunderland had nothing to lose and Moyes showed that he can still instruct a team to give a much better team a hard time. For a long time Arsenal struggled to find the opening despite trying very hard. It looked like it could be one of those days, but then a moment of quality between three great players – Xhaka-Ozil-Alexis – broke the deadlock.

It really is not easy to keep believing we can still finish in the top four and to play with conviction and a high tempo after so many games in quick succession, but all eleven selected players were up for it. And if it was not for the magnificent, young and clearly very talented Pickford, we could have won with a monster score tonight. I am very proud of the boys for their attitude and the tempo they played with. That is all we can ask for.

I thought Xhaka was the anchor in midfield. He positioned himself brilliantly and had a lot of the ball. His natural desire to sit back a bit and control play from there is vital for the new formation and the team. He always knows what to do next and his passes are quick, sharp and attack-minded. Rambo makes the physical connection between midfield and attack with his energetic and aggressive runs and Ozil always makes himself available to help the two out. I thought Mesut played a superb game and was my man of the match.

Alexis had both the goals, and to me it is clear he is our CF going forward. He still loses a lot of balls through his relatively poor passing ability (especially attacking ones), so why not play him as our main man up front? Having said that, Giroud also played a good game in the centre tonight. He got very close to scoring himself, but it was his team play and hard graft to create space and connections for others that pleased me most.

The wingbacks disappointed tonight in terms of creating and taking opportunities. This is the position we need to invest in if we want to get full value out of the ‘three at the back’ system… but that is for next season. Bellerin can still improve but Gibbs is really struggling to add incisiveness to his attacking play. Still, he worked hard and he is Arsenal through and through. At the back we were mostly solid with Holding looking confident and sharp and Mustafi and Nacho adding a lot of bite to our game.

This win will keep the pressure on Liverpool and to some extent Man City in the very last PL game of the season. But more importantly for me, it also keeps our momentum going towards the imminent FA Cup final. I wrote a while ago that I am no longer watching CL games as a result of dubious refereeing and the competition being devoid of any romance. So qualifying for the much more exciting UEFA league is not a bad thing at all, especially if we can finish the season on a high by winning FA Cup for a record thirteenth time.

It is great to be a Gooner and a big thanks to Arsene and the players for finishing the season on a high.

By TotalArsenal

 

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Arsenal-Sunderland: Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Back at Home, Winning on the Pitch is Only Half the Battle.

It’s out of our hands, but winning our remaining games gives Arsenal the slimmest of hopes of retaining a top-4 league finish and what many consider to be “minimum requirements” for an Arsene Wenger managed team.  There are two league matches left to be played, the first a make-up game against already relegated Sunderland.  We play it because of the FA Cup run that sees Arsenal in the final of that tournament, a third remaining match which likely overshadows this one and the league finale on Sunday vs Everton.

In many ways this match, one many Arsenal supporters have already toted up in the win column, only serves as a backdrop to the bigger dramas surrounding the club and its figurehead, Wenger.  Will the manager extend his contract for another year or two?  Should he be the one making that decision?  Many Gooners believe that this season’s failure to maintain a title challenge combined with a humiliating dismissal from the Champions league by Bayern Munich is not at all mitigated by the FA Cup run nor the recent resurgence that has pulled us back towards the top 4.  Wenger should be judged on his results and these do not meet the high standards he set earlier in his career, which has now stretched to 21 seasons.  That very longevity may be at the root of the issue.  Sports, for most fans at least, are about the moment at hand, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat, viscerally experienced.  The longer arc of a club and notions like “consistency” and “growth,” don’t scratch that sort of itch.  The mood will likely hang heavy at the Emirates, a stadium, it could be argued, that Wenger himself built.

Intriguingly enough, in the opposite technical area will be a man many wished for when the first rumblings of the Wenger Out movement were being heard.  At that time, Scotsman David Moyes was an overachieving manager at Everton and many thought his style was exactly what was needed at Arsenal, a team with a more continental culture which suggested that the annual return to the Champions League was more important than triumph on the domestic front.  Moyes eventually left Everton for a bigger club but it was as Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand picked successor at Manchester United.  To put things mildly, Moyes time at United did not go well.  Sacked there in less than a year, he traveled to beautiful San Sebastien, Spain to manage Real Sociedad.  Again, Moyes lasted less than a year.  Now at Sunderland and headed down into the Championship, Moyes’ best days seem well behind him.

Of course, that’s the same thing many believe about Arsene Wenger and his recent tactical flexibility–switching to a three-man-at-the-back formation–all feels “too little, too late.”  In fact, Wenger recently revealed that he considered such a switch as early as November, but that a lengthy unbeaten run made him hesitate.  These sorts of pressures–always managing with an eye to the potential reaction of his critics–is another argument that a change of figurehead might buy a new manager and his squad a measure of good will even if results might head even further south.  Superior recent results since the formation switch–six wins from seven matches, and, most recently at Stoke, a performance with plenty of verve, proivides a measure of hope that Arsenal can finish the season on a high.  Win these two league matches and prevent Chelsea from completing a domestic double with an FA Cup win and Wenger might even earn himself a dose of good-will.  Would that be a time to bow out or would it be a springboard to a renaissance at the club if he were to renew his contract?

For all but the hardest core of Wenger Out “supporters,” that would be the preferred outcome.  The only way to get there, however, is to take them one at a time and not look past what would appear to be the easiest of all the matches in this extreme five-games-in-two-weeks flurry at the tail end of the season.  Sunderland are already relegated, check.  They have plenty of injuries and Moyes has promised to play some of his younger guys, check.  They do not have the advantage of extra rest having played last Saturday just like Arsenal, check.  On the other hand, their form in away games is not all that bad, having won one, drawn one and lost only one in their three most recent travels.  Moyes’ boys might play more freely away from the Stadium of Light, a venue that perhaps shines a bit too much glare on their failed season.

As such, Wenger must not allow a sense of complacency to set in while maybe using further rotation to rest some of his players and allow others a chance to show that they might be worthy for a place in the season finale or at Wembley.  Injury concerns focus on Laurent Koscielny, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez, the latter of whom was grabbing his thigh then signaling that he needed to be subbed before carrying on and scoring a very nice goal to restore a two goal lead that sealed the victory at Stoke.  Is he hurt or isn’t he?  Wenger says it was just a kick and not a strained hamstring as many feared.  He faces a late fitness test but my suspicion is that all three players will sit this one out, though Alexis might get a bench seat just to assure supporters that he will be available for the Everton and Chelsea matches.  Here’s the squad I think will start.

Cech

Holding–Mustafi–Monreal

Bellerin–Xhaka–Ramsey–Gibbs

Walcott–Welbeck–Ozil

Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi, Alexis, Giroud

As always, it’s a shot in the dark.  What do others think?  How should Wenger balance all the factors at play–not only the need for a win while thinking of the matches ahead–but also the extreme scrutiny he faces whenever he brings his team onto the pitch?  As always, it’s a balancing act but one with no room for error.  The chance of making the top 4 is out of our hands but it will be completely lost if we cannot win this match, so win it we must.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

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Stoke City-Arsenal. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. The Beat Must Go On.

And Arsenal must win at the always difficult Britannia Stadium if they wish to keep their hopes of Champions League Football alive.  If we can grab all three points at Stoke, Gooners will watch Sunday’s West Ham-Liverpool match with a keen eye.  Winning in the potteries combined with the Hammers getting a result would mean that Arsenal would finally hold their fate in their own hands in the quest for top 4 spot.

But that’s getting ahead of things and taking care of our own business at Stoke must be the only focus.  It won’t be easy.  Although Stoke sit comfortably in the middle of the table, there is no love lost between the opposing managers and Mark Hughes will want his team to give their all to beat the Gunners.  Stoke supporters will too, and, as always when Arsenal visit, will want to see blood if not broken bones.  Even if Hughes has morphed his squad into a more skilled group than the teams his predecessor Tony Pulis put out, this fixture always has an edge to it.  I expect both Aaron Ramsey and Ryan Shawcross, the man who broke his leg back in 2010, to start in this one and I’ll be watching when they shake hands to gauge the intensity of the game just ahead.

As I say, the current Stoke group are more than just cloggers and brutes.  Players like Xherdan Shaquiri, Saido Berahino and Joe Allen are small but skilled attackers even if they are backed up by bigger and more powerful guys like Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and Geoff Cameron.  Arsenal should beware of those more sizable players when they come forward at set pieces.  In open play, it will be the smaller guys working in combos and trying to deliver crosses and throughballs towards Marko Arnautovic and Mame Diouf.  Stoke, in front of their home crowd, won’t just sit back and defend.

That might suit Arsenal who are becoming ever more familiar with the 3-4-3 formation that has yielded five wins from six matches since it was introduced.  Surely manager Arsene Wenger will send out his first 11 in that set-up.  The bigger question is if he will rotate some players into the group or stay with the starters who won at Southampton on Wednesday night.  Rotation would seem the call with less than 72 hours to recover and prepare between our matches compared to Stoke’s full week off since they drew 2-2 at Bournemouth last Saturday.  With only a week left in the season, however, I think Wenger will flog his players and hope they can dig deep to continue their winning ways.  As such, my guess is that the only change will be an enforced one: Hector Bellerin in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at right wingback.  The Ox was forced off with a hamstring injury on Wednesday night but reports are that it was not overly severe.  I hope that’s the case so I’m slating him for a bench seat.  My predicted first 11 thus looks like this.

Cech

Holding–Mustafi–Monreal

Bellerin–Xhaka–Ramsey–Gibbs

Ozil–Welbeck–Alexis

Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Walcott, Giroud

That’s just my predicted group and there seems plenty of rationale to make additional changes.  The big figure of Olivier Giroud is always an asset at the front post when corner kicks are taken–at both ends of the pitch–especially against the more physical sides.  If he goes for deeper rotation, Wenger might choose to hand starts to Francis Coquelin, Alex Iwobi and/or Theo Walcott, guys who might be fresher and who might be able to offer a little recovery time for some of the players who have been starting each and every match.  Then there are those who have been training but not dressing for recent games, a group that includes Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy and Lucas Perez.  This game represents the mid-point of a brutal run of five matches in two weeks.  It would be a risky move to break up a winning formula but can Wenger afford to push his regulars so hard?

We shall see, but my hunch is that he’ll stay with as much of the winning group as he can.  What say you?  Everybody has an opinion, so don’t keep it to yourself.

As Wenger has been saying, “We have one advantage, the advantage of clarity.”  Clearly we need another win and we must get it by hook or by crook.  A well rested Stoke team in front of their home support is as big a test as they come.  No matter what, somehow Arsenal must rise to the occasion and bring home the three points.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

 

 

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