Arsenal face Sunderland Saturday morning at the Stadium of Light, in a match that many Gooners hope will kick start their season. Sunderland are on the back of an 8-0 thrashing to Southampton, this could either be a trap game for Arsenal as Sunderland look to respond, or it could be exactly what they need.
Arsenal came away with a win Wednesday in the Champions League versus Anderlecht, although a more fair assessment would be to say that they were given a win. Their performance was less than impressive; Kieran Gibbs highlighting this claiming the team’s performance was “frustrating” despite the victory. Per Mertesacker expanded on the teams performance stating, “Our confidence is not that much how we wanted it,” something that every Gooner already knows and Arsene Wenger refuses to admit publicly.
For Arsenal to truly kick-start their season, they must start improving their defensive performances. The makeshifts back four that will appear again on Saturday will not reassure Gooner’s of an improved defensive performance. Wenger will have choices to make. Will he stick with the back four that started Wednesday? Will he start Hector Bellerin ahead of Calum Chambers who performed poorly Wednesday? Will he play Chambers at center back and drop Nacho Monreal or will Monreal start in the right back spot, instead of both Bellerin and Chambers, and start Chambers in the center back position where he has looked more assured? This is all speculative and no matter what, the back four will be one to watch Saturday.
Lastly, there are some reports circulating that Theo Walcott could possibly make his return this weekend, off the bench albeit. This would be surprising as you would expect him to need at least 2 or 3 reserve matches, but Arsenal could use a boost like this.
Having said that, here is Arsenal’s possible starting 11:
Goalkeeper – Szczesny
Wojciech Szczesny returns from suspension in place of Emiliano Martinez, who had a nondescript Champions League debut. It’s possible that the return of the Pole will instill some needed confidence in the back four’s mindset. However with the way Arsenal’s season has started, it might not make a difference.
Right Back – Chambers
I flip-flopped between him and Bellerin here. Chambers looked out of position against Anderlecht for most of the game and Anderlecht exposed it the entire game. Granted he is 19 and was due for a game where his age showed, however, he has looked more reassured at center back. Bellerin hasn’t looked out of place when playing this season and deserves more chances. Continuity is key for a successful defense, even if it means Monreal is clearly played out of position at center back.
Center Backs – Mertesacker and Monreal
Mertesacker being the only natural and healthy center back in the squad is a must start, despite his run of average performances. Monreal works incredibly hard but he is simply not a center back. You cannot fault him or his efforts, he is simply playing in the position he is told to, but it is clear that he is a left back. You can see it in his body language while he plays, he does not seem comfortable.
The other option here would be to start Chambers at center back instead of Monreal. This would mean leaving out one the most experienced defenders, who is healthy, in place of a 19 year old at center back. If this was done you could possibly start Monreal at right back, although that might be a handicap for him as he would be easy to defend going forward, he has no right foot, and he might have trouble defending when opposing players go outside and try and expose his weaker right foot. Continuity is key and Wenger sticks with this back four.
Left Back – Gibbs
On the theme of continuity, Kieran Gibbs is a must start unless fatigued or injured. If Arsenal loses Gibbs to injury, arguably their best defender so far this season, they will be in a very deep crisis.
Defensive Mid – Arteta
My gut tells me that Mikel Arteta plays, even though Mathieu Flamini has been chosen ahead of him twice now after being declared fit. There must be some fears that Arteta is not 100% fit, otherwise he would be starting. Arteta has already gotten injured twice in quick succession this season; so don’t be surprised if Wenger decides to start Flamini again. Arsenal’s midfield looks like it needs an injection of confidence and reassurance. Arteta would provide a calming affect due to his excellent possession skills.
Center Mid – Ramsey
Aaron has not been able to duplicate his performances from last year and there is a lingering feeling that he has yet to get his season started. There is more to come from “Welsh Jesus”.
Attacking Mid – Wilshere
Jack will reassume the number 10 role he had against Anderlecht. He came under criticism for his lack of defensive awareness on Wednesday, and his constant dribbling through three players before attempting an impossible pass. He does provide a motor to the midfield and sometimes seems like the only player who can drive the team forward, excluding Alexis and sometimes Cazorla.
Right Wing – Alexis
He started here Wednesday but started to drift across the front line, ending up playing as a striker and a left-winger. Cazrola would then drift behind him and in the center of the field, making it seem like Arsenal were playing with 4 central midfielders and 2 strikers, this is because they essential are. Alexis’ drive on the pitch and effort for the full 90 minutes is an example that the rest of the team should follow. He has brought Arsenal back into games single handedly numerous times this season.
Left Wing – Cazorla
He will continue on the left although constantly drop in behind the strikers and play next to Wilshere. His performances haven’t been horrible although we have seen him play better.
Striker – Welbeck
No change here because all of the other strikers are still injured. He seemed to pick up a knock at the end of the match Wednesday and was taken off. Wenger will risk him, 5 goals in 6 matches, especially because Arsenal has a week off before their next match.