Arsenal face Hull City on Monday at the KC Stadium. This will be their third encounter of the season. The sides drew at the Emirates earlier in the year and Arsenal knocked Hull out of the FA Cup in their third round encounter.
Arsenal can boast a full bill of health, minus a slight hamstring injury that should keep Mathieu Debuchy out for Monday. Otherwise Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all in full training again. Monday comes too soon for all three of them.
Arsene Wenger won’t change his lineup too much and the only change he could make may be inserting Danny Welbeck in on the right. This would provide Arsenal with more width, something that they have been lacking on that side of the pitch lately.
This match is incredibly important as Arsenal will want to maintain the advantage that a game in hand provides them. Both Manchester clubs face tough oppositions, although they are the favorites in both their matches. Points could be lost this weekend and Arsenal will want to maintain the pressure on both clubs and cement 2nd place in the league.
Here is Arsenal’s probable starting lineup.
Goalkeeper – Ospina
At his press conference Wenger was asked if he thought Arsenal could win the league with their current goalkeepers. He responded by first praising Wojciech Szczesny saying that he is a top quality keeper and then claimed that based on the stats David Ospina has been the best keeper in the league in 2015.
Do what you will with this information.
Right Back – Bellerin
With Debuchy suffering from a small hamstring problem Hector Bellerin continues to hold his right back place. Personally I thought Bellerin was Arsenal’s best player against Chelsea. Eden Hazard was largely invisible thanks to disciplined defending by Bellerin.
Too much is asked of him in attack though when Aaron Ramsey is played on the right. Ramsey drifts inside, leaving Arsenal narrow, requiring Bellerin to get up the pitch fast and in a manner that neglects his defensive duties somewhat. This has to change eventually and with the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the coming weeks.
Center Backs – Mertesacker & Koscielny
They both are showing the form they exhibited together last season and are again proving why they are one of the best center back pairings in the league.
Left Back – Monreal
Barring injury, I can’t see Kieran Gibbs getting a start ahead of Nacho Monreal the rest of the season. The Spaniard has been immense for Arsenal this season. One of their players of the year.
Defensive Mid – Coquelin
There has been a lot of speculation this week about Arsenal bringing in Morgan Schneiderlin or Ilkay Gundogan to play Francis Coquelin’s position. Honestly though, both would play second fiddle to Coquelin if they were in the squad this season. That is how important he has been to Arsenal.
Central Mid – Cazorla
He has been solid this past month but he needs to find his shooting boots. He was presented with an excellent opportunity in the second half against Chelsea after some good defensive work by Laurent Koscielny and a clever pull back by the Frenchman. A player gifted with the exquisite technique that Santi Cazorla possesses, should and can do better.
Attacking Mid – Özil
He was voted the PFA Player of the Month for April and I think he deserves it. He might not rack up goals and assists but he dictates Arsenal’s play, constantly creates for others and regularly starts attacking moves. Arsenal spreads out their assists well across the squad. Most of the assists generated by other players come from moves that began with Mesut Özil.
His willingness to defensive skills have improved considerably compared to last season.
Wide Right – Ramsey
If Wenger were to make a change in the squad for Monday, I think it would be Ramsey for Danny Welbeck or Cazorla for Welbeck which would move Ramsey to the center. This has been Arsenal’s weakest link the past couple matches, not because of Ramsey’s performances, but rather what playing him here does to the shape of the team.
This selection worked well against Liverpool because of the way Liverpool set up and because Arsenal was looking to press them high up the pitch. Since then Arsenal has been more dominant in possession which suits a player like Ramsey but doesn’t suit Arsenal’s shape with him playing here.
Ramsey is a central player and therefore moves centrally when he has the ball and when he makes runs without the ball. Arsenal lack an outlet on the right to counter through and that puts too much pressure on Alexis on the left and Bellerin to get forward often and quick on the right.
For now Wenger will likely persist with this lineup so to fit in his best players available. When Oxlade-Chamberlain is fit again in a couple weeks, Wenger will have to make a few decisions between Ramsey and Cazorla through the middle and the Ox on the right.
Wide Left – Alexis
Alexis looked a bit rusty against Chelsea. His passing was noticeably poor when he misplaced a few simple passes and made poor decisions on the counter. I think that frustration played a small part in those mistakes, but I also got the feeling that he was trying too hard and maybe forcing things. I don’t think the occasion got to him, but he wasn’t playing naturally. Credit to Chelsea for defending him well when he had the ball on the edge of the box.
Striker – Giroud
Olivier Giroud had an interesting week. He was on the receiving end of some undeserving criticism from Thierry Henry who claimed Arsenal couldn’t win the league with Giroud. I beg to differ. When you look at Giroud’s stats and compare them to Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero, they are very similar, with Giroud behind them in goals per game by the slightest of margins.
Additionally, Arsenal’s best form of the season has come with him on the pitch. They look more fluid with him as the point of attack, the midfield connects together well and Arsenal actually play better defense because he can be used as a target man to boot the ball up to when under pressure. No one at Arsenal can hold the ball up as well as Giroud.
Of course Arsenal could improve and there are better strikers out there than Giroud, but who is better than Giroud AND would fit in to Arsenal’s system and do what Giroud does. I’m not sure there is an answer to that.
Another tidbit, Giroud has improved on his stats and performances every season with Arsenal. Maybe he’ll continue to improve and become a striker Arsenal can win the league with.