Arsenal will visit Stoke City next Saturday, and they need to win in order to stay near the top of the table. In my opinion, manager Arsène Wenger will use a 4-2-3-1 tactic as always, and he’ll try not to risk any doubtful player that could be well substituted without changing the scheme, specially in the midfield.
I think the goalkeeper will be Wojciech Szczęsny. He is Wenger’s first choice in the Premier League, and unless he wants to give some games to Fabianski in view of the match against Bayern Munich -in which Szczęsny won’t play due to suspension-, the Polish has the gloves granted. The boss will surely try with Fabianski only against Everton in the FA Cup, a few days before the Bayern clash, since he usually chooses him in that competition.
In defense, Wenger will have a big problem if some players don’t recover from their injuries. Both left-backs, Kieran Gibbs (buttock) and Nacho Monreal (foot) are in doubt, while centre-back Laurent Koscielny (back) was substituted in the last match, but he should be back on Saturday, as the manager told after the game. Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen (knee) is back in the squad, but he doesn’t play since January 4 and Wenger will try to bench him if he can.
If Wenger can’t rely on Gibbs or Monreal, it would be a huge problem: in the last match, when Monreal left the pitch, Carl Jenkinson played on the right back, pushing Sagna to the left side, and things got even worse when Koscielny was substituted and midfielder Mathieu Flamini got into the pitch to play as a defender.
In the pre-match press conference, Wenger said that Vermaelen can play as a left-back, although that isn’t his preferred position. In my opinion, the boss will wait for Monreal or Gibbs as much as he can, and hopefully someone will be fit and play. Otherwise, Wenger would have to put Vermaelen, who hasn’t played a match in almost two months, to play 90 minutes in a position where he doesn’t feel very comfortable.
In the midfield, there are many players injured or returning from injuries too: Aaron Ramsey is out (he may return in the derby against Tottenham on March 16), while Jack Wilshere (tight hamstring). Özil returned to train on Wednesday, but taking into account that he didn’t play against Sunderland and the team was good, plus his problems with the car crash issue during the week, I think Wenger will start him on the bench. The same goes for Wilshere, as Arsenal have many good midfielders and the manager won’t put a player in that position in the lineup if that means taking a risk.
I think that Arteta and Flamini will play in the defensive midfield, while Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky and Podolski will get a place in the offensive midfield. In my opinion, Cazorla will go to the bench due to rotation, since Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t played against Sunderland.
Finally, there are two options for the striker position: Olivier Giroud or Yaya Sanogo. Sanogo played good matches against Liverpool and Bayern last week, while Giroud played in the last match, against Sunderland, and scored two goals. I think Wenger will choose Sanogo, in order to give him some minutes, check his performance and see if he can rely on him for the following matches, specially against Bayern Munich.