Arsenal enter their final four game stretch of the season with a Monday match at home against Swansea City. The Welsh club sit in 8th place with an outside chance of making the Europa League, with nothing else to play for otherwise.
Earlier in the season, Swansea came from behind to beat Arsenal scoring two goals in the last 10 minutes. Arsenal would surely like to take those last ten minutes back, as well as a couple of other matches from their first ten games of the season. If that result had gone the other way, Arsenal’s season would look different right now. Unfortunately that can be said about much of the first half of the season.
Never the less, fighting for 2nd place is an improvement to last year when the Gunners faltered in the last third of the season. A 2nd place finish hasn’t been seen in North London since 2004-2005, the year after the Invincibles. If Arsenal can finish in 2nd, this season should be seen as a success. Pair that with another good FA Cup run, one that hopefully accumulates in more silverware at the end May, and add in a couple new players, Arsenal should be a force next season that competes with Chelsea.
They still have a job to do though and that starts again against Swansea. A win on Monday is vital. Arsenal need to retain the advantage of having a game in hand over Manchester City and Manchester United, who they play the following Sunday at Old Trafford.
Arsene Wenger has one big decision to make and that, again, comes on the right side of the field. Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will miss out again, both are a week away possibly, therefore neither is an option on the right. The current incumbent, Aaron Ramsey, is recovery from a nasty Tom Huddlestone challenge and the news is that he is 50/50 for Monday but hasn’t improved much since. With a visit to Old Trafford looming, resting Ramsey on Monday and allowing him to fully recuperate seems likely.
That leaves Wenger with two choices, Jack Wilshere or Theo Walcott. Here is the case for Wilshere starting. In his press conference, Wenger praised Swansea manager, Gary Monk, for the attacking fortitude and defensive solidity that Swansea have shown this year. That indicates that Swansea are a team where everyone is needed to defend and attack. This should rule out Walcott as Wilshere is best suited for a game that requires players to contribute in both phases of the game.
The fact that Wilshere came on for Ramsey in the 68th minute against Hull City, might indicates that Wilshere is second choice in this position. He played very, very well and should have had one penalty given, if not two.
Here is the case for Walcott. It’s likely Wilshere came on for Ramsey not because he is second in the pecking order on the right wing, but because he needs match fitness. Last Monday was a great opportunity for Wilshere to reintroduce himself to the squad and gain some needed match time.
Last week Wenger spoke about how Wilshere is not yet match fit. This could play into Walcott’s favor, who theoretically should be ahead of Wilshere in terms of match fitness. Walcott would also provide Arsenal with width. Wilshere wouldn’t as was evident on Monday when he found himself in the middle of the field quite a bit with the ball and without the ball. Walcott is as deserving of a start as Wilshere is at the moment because he is the only natural right winger in the squad that is healthy.
It will be interesting to see what Wenger decides on Monday and regardless of his decision, it will surely be a talking point after the game. Here is Arsenal’s probable starting lineup.
Goalkeeper – Ospina
This won’t change until May 30th when Wojciech Szczesny plays in the FA Cup final. David Ospina did well last week and was unlucky to concede against Hull on Monday.
Right Back – Bellerin
With Mathieu Debuchy still out injured, Hector Bellerin will continue at right back. I don’t see Debuchy reclaiming his spot this season. Next season we are going to see an excellent competition at this position. Both players should push each other. Right back is a position of depth for Arsenal.
Center Backs – Mertesacker & Koscielny
Another solid display on Monday from these two. Could have done better on the goal conceded even though Laurent Koscielny might have been fouled but the challenge seemed 50/50 and you can justify the ref let play continue. In fairness to Hull, it was a brilliant cross and a composed finish.
Left Back – Monreal
Wenger mentioned that Kieran Gibbs is back in contention. Its not lear if that means he was hurt previously or he is playing better in training, but Nacho Monreal will not be dethroned from his comfortable seat at left back.
Defensive Mid – Coquelin
Apparently Arsenal made their first inquiries to Southampton regarding Morgan Schneiderlin. If Arsenal do sign Schneiderlin I would imagine he would play second fiddle to Francis Coquelin. Arsenal have not had a central midfielder like Coquelin since Gilberto Silva. What Coquelin does for Arsenal is irreplaceable. He sticks to what he is good at and does it exceptionally well for the benefit of the team.
Schneiderlin is a great player, but is not the kind of defensive midfielder that Arsenal need and would not do the same job as Coquelin. Schneiderlin is an all-round midfielder and would do great at Arsenal. But Arsenal already has Ramsey and Wilshere, both of whom are all-round midfielders and are very young still. Not to mention Santi Cazorla is playing the best football of his life right now in a position that Schneiderlin could also be in contention for.
Coquelin’s skill set makes his teammates better because he allows them to do what they do best. Cazorla is playing well because Coquelin allows him to. Alexis is more effective and contributes higher up the pitch rather than in his own half because Coquelin always him to. Mesut Özil is playing like the world-class player that he is because he is in better shape and because Coquelin always him to.
I think Arsenal will sign a defensive midfielder and I fully support that because they do need depth there. I don’t think that it is going to be a player that is currently being touted in the media though.
Central Mid – Cazorla
Michael Cox wrote a very interesting piece on Cazorla’s impact in Arsenal midfield this season. He is one of the candidates for Arsenal’s player of the year, along with a few other players.
His pass to Ramsey for Arsenal’s second goal was sublime. After that assist, his influence on the game grew.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Özil was brilliant on Monday against Hull. His flick to set up Alexis on the edge of the box in the second half was masterful. He did some good defensive work as well, picking off Huddlestone in dangerous areas of the pitch on a couple of occasions, one of which led to an Arsenal goal.
He genuinely seems to be enjoying himself the past two months. He is defending well and willingly and has cultivated an excellent understanding with all of his teammates. This is what Wenger envisioned when he signed Özil last summer.
Wide Right – Wilshere
Ultimately Wenger will choose Wilshere to start over Walcott because he suited for this kind of game. Width on the right might be an issue but Bellerin can stretch the field and provide width when needed. Wilshere looked very sharp as a sub against Hull and he deserves to start right now.
Like Özil when he came back from injury, Wilshere looks more muscular and in shape. He also looked quicker. Maybe we are seeing the effects of Arsenal’s guru physio Shad Forsythe pay off.
Wide Left – Alexis
Alexis’ first goal was a bit lucky but his second goal was excellent. He had been put through by Cazorla a few minutes earlier and tried to chip the goalie but failed. This time when Ramsey put the Chilean through after an excellent run, Alexis was decisive by rounding the keeper and finishing in an empty net. That makes it five goals in five matches.
Striker – Giroud
Olivier Giroud was a quiet figure on Monday and during the initial phases of the match it seemed like he was just having an off night. Later on it was evident though that his role against Hull was different because of the way they played. Hull played with a back three and they spent most of their cutting the supply off to Giroud. Giroud was smart though and used Hull’s back three to free up space for his teammates.
On the second goal, his run away from the ball drew two defenders with him, freeing up the middle for Ramsey to burst in to. From their Ramsey finished with a bit of luck. On the third goal, Giroud did the same. He made a run away from the run of Alexis which drew one defender with him and forced another defender to hesitate just enough for Alexis to go clean through and round the keeper.
Having said all of that, Giroud was quiet but effective last week. With Welbeck out for another week, Giroud starts again regardless of what Wenger, whose opinion matters the most, thought of his compatriot’s performance.