Arsenal plays their match in hand on Wednesday against relegation candidates Sunderland. This should be a feisty encounter considering that Sunderland needs a win to put them in position to decide their own fate on the final day of the season. Arsenal need a result to secure at least third place and to ensure they avoid a Champions League Qualifying match in August.
Arsenal is coming off a somewhat fortuitous draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford, thanks to an own goal. Its hard to argue that Arsenal didn’t deserve the result as neither team played exceptionally well, but there is still a lingering feeling that Arsenal should have done better against a United side that most believe are not as good as Arsenal. Nevertheless, Old Trafford is a difficult place to play at and the result itself does not damage Arsenal final position in the standings. Even if Arsenal had won, they still would need Manchester City to loose at home to Southampton next weekend due to the superior goal difference that City have over Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger will look to shake things up a bit against Sunderland considering the short rest that Arsenal face, and the fatigue that showed in some players on Sunday. Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers, and possibly Tomas Rosicky are in line to replace two to three players at the most. Danny Welbeck could make a comeback from injury, as could Mikel Arteta. The question is whom will Wenger rotate?
Wenger has yet to give an update on the status of various squad members such as Welbeck, nor do we know the team news coming out of the match on Sunday. We won’t have a better idea of what the squad will look like until his press conference Tuesday evening.
Here is a best guess at Wenger will likely select on Wednesday night:
Goalkeeper – Ospina
Again David Ospina conceded a goal that wasn’t really his fault but again made you wonder if he were taller would he have saved Ander Herrera’s volley. He is a skilled keeper but has physical limitations. You also never see him make a save that you wouldn’t expect him to, which is something Arsenal is missing in their goalkeeping department.
Wojciech Szczesny made those saves last season but wasn’t able to replicate that form earlier in the year. Ospina will finish the league season in goal and Szczesny will play Arsenal’s last match of the season in the FA Cup Final.
Right Back – Chambers
Hector Bellerin had a difficult time against Ashley Young. This wasn’t surprising as Young is playing well and Bellerin is very young still and his inexperience has been showing in flashes the past two games.
Wenger will need to rotate a bit this match because it comes two days after Arsenal’s previous match. It seems like Mathieu Debuchy will miss out again and Chambers hasn’t had a run out in a while. He seems due for one.
Center Backs – Mertesacker & Koscielny
Arsenal will want to secure at least third place as soon as possible and therefore Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will retain their hold at center back.
I imagine that Gabriel should get a run out next weekend if Arsenal gets the right result against Sunderland.
Left Back – Monreal
Nacho Monreal will get the start over Kieran Gibbs. Stability is important in this match and Gibbs hasn’t exactly shown that he is able to contribute to the stability of the team for a full match.
Like the center backs and other players, if Arsenal gets the right result Wednesday, Monreal will be rested in place of Gibbs over the weekend.
Defensive Mid – Coquelin
Francis Coquelin’s performance against Man U was solid but not spectacular. Again his passing limitations and ability to pick up the ball deep in the field showed and is a reason why Arsenal still needs an upgrade at defensive midfield.
Coquelin will be an important figure next season regardless of Arsenal’s transfer business though. In line with that, he is still a vital player and Wenger will call upon him again on Wednesday. Mathieu Flamini could be in line for a start next weekend, if Arsenal gets the right result against Sunderland. Arteta could make a short cameo appearance as well.
Center Mid – Ramsey
Santi Cazorla was ineffective and seemed jaded against Man U. He has played a lot this season and it caught up with him a bit. Wenger will start Aaron Ramsey in the Welshman’s favorite position, allowing Cazorla to rest.
Arsenal looked significantly better on Sunday when Ramsey was playing through the middle. It will be interesting to see what Wenger chooses to do with his midfield the last two games of the season.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Mesut Özil hasn’t shown signs of fatigue at all, unlike last season, therefore there is no need for Wenger to drop him on Wednesday. Arsenal needs a result and the German is Arsenal’s must creative player.
Like a couple other players, if Arsenal gets the right result on Wednesday, he will play a bit part during the weekend.
Wide Right – Wilshere
Wilshere gets the start over Walcott because he has looked sharper and is more likely to play a significant role in the last two matches than Walcott is.
Walcott looked better against Man U and seemed to play with a bit more confidence, especially after the own goal. I would be surprised if Walcott and Wilshere didn’t start next weekend if Arsenal gets the right result.
Wide Left – Alexis
It’s fair to say Alexis played the poorest match of his Arsenal career on Sunday. He lost possession in every part of the field, made poor decisions, and couldn’t complete a pass. There is talk that he was sick, so his performance can be excused somewhat.
Wenger has shown an unwillingness to rest Alexis and part of that might be Alexis refusing to rest. Alexis will likely play Wednesday because Arsenal will want the result. I imagine that if they win, he won’t play over the weekend.
Striker – Giroud
Olivier Giroud failed to score for the sixth consecutive match on Sunday. In the last ten minutes he was presented with an excellent chance that he fizzed just wide. He would have scored that same chance a couple weeks ago though.
Welbeck may be fit for this match but he hasn’t played for almost three weeks now and Wednesday may be too much to ask of him. Additionally, this could be a good game for Giroud to play himself out of his funk. Sunderland has not been a good defensive team this season and Wenger may play Giroud to provide a confidence boost for the Frenchman.
Giroud seems to be the kind of player who tends to be mentally frail. Wenger touched on this a bit earlier in the year when he called on Giroud to be more ruthless on the pitch. Giroud could use a pick-me-up and Sunderland could be the team he gets that from.