Arsenal faces West Brom on Sunday at the Emirates to close out an up and down season in the Premier League for the Gunners. A win or a draw would see Arsenal automatically qualify for the Champions League Group Stage. A loss would impact the status of automatic qualification only if Manchester United are able to make up a 7 goal, goal difference on Sunday.
In the preamble to Arsenal’s upcoming fixture against West Brom, Arsene Wenger mentioned he may make two changes but the squad he fields on Sunday should be largely similar to the one that played on Wednesday. With no players returning from injury yet again, it means that Wenger likely doesn’t have a choice.
Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both returned to full training on Friday and have a slim chance of featuring in the FA Cup Final, but neither are fit this weekend. Mikel Arteta is still out and won’t appear again until next season, depending on if he has indeed extended his contract or not. There still remains some confusion on that issue. We may see Serge Gnabry and Abou Diaby feature on the bench in place of players who are being rest. Neither have appeared in the Premier League this season.
Of the two players who are most likely to sit out Sunday, you would imagine it would be Santi Cazorla and Alexis considering both seemed noticeably jaded last weekend and during Arsenal’s midweek match. Olivier Giroud should be added to that list as well, but with Welbeck not available again he may be forced into action.
Arsenal will want to recapture some form ahead of next weekend and a win would be very welcome for obvious reasons. The squad does not look bereft of confidence, rather they seem to lack energy. The season has taken a toll on a couple players and it is beginning to show. Wenger for his part is not concerned by the lack of goals though and seemed confident that his team would respond.
It would be silly for him not to rotate the squad a bit. Third place is all but guaranteed and a few players could use extended minutes if they are to be useful off the bench next weekend. It’s difficult to say who Wenger decides to play and in what position because normally he is very unpredictable with his rotational decisions.
Here is Arsenal’s probable lineup against West Brom.
Goalkeeper – Ospina
Last season, Wenger chose to play Lukasz Fabianski in goal the last game of the season in preparation for the FA Cup Final the following weekend.
This year, Wenger will stuck with his “League Goalkeeper”, not allowing Wojciech Szczesny to play a warm up match. The difference is that last year, Arsenal’s last match had no impact on their league position, whereas in this match, there is a small chance that they could drop to fourth. Szczesny wouldn’t effect that if he played, but David Ospina deserves to play the last match in the league based on Wednesday’s performance.
If Szczesny does play on Sunday, it means that he will definitely play next weekend. If the Polish keeper doesn’t play this match, it’s still likely he’ll play next weekend.
Right Back – Bellerin
I’m tempted to believe that Calum Chambers will start this game but he hasn’t featured on the bench in ages therefore it’s unlikely he would get a start.
Hector Bellerin put in a few dangerous crosses on Wednesday and hasn’t looked jaded. Mathieu Debuchy is still injured so it’s unlikely Wenger rotates his right backs.
Center Back – Koscielny & Mertesacker
Both Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have looked good for a couple weeks and seem to be growing in each match. They were in control most of the match against Sunderland, bar one moment in the second half when Steven Fletcher got away from Koscielny.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gabriel in this match but with other players in more need of rest and Wenger unwilling to make wholesale changes to the squad, Koscielny and Mertesacker should play against West Brom.
Both will need to be attentive to the excellent Saido Berahino. While the responsibility to contain Berahino will be placed on these two, Arsenal as a squad cannot sell themselves out like they did a couple times against Sunderland. Berahino has pace and will easily expose the spaces that Arsenal could leave behind.
Left Back – Monreal
Kieran Gibbs did alright against Sunderland but he lacks a defining edge in his attacking game and is very predictable. Nacho Monreal is a better all-round player at the moment and with a week’s rest between his last match and his next match, the Spaniard will reclaim his place.
Monreal is attentive to not leaving to much space behind him whereas Gibbs isn’t always attentive. Monreal suits Arsenal’s needs better at the moment.
Defensive Mid – Coquelin
Francis Coquelin didn’t play against Sunderland because it was clear that The Black Cats would sit back and in a match like that Coquelin’s skill set is not needed. West Brom will likely do the same, but will counter more effectively than Sunderland. In this instance, Coquelin will be needed to prevent those counters.
Central Mid – Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey is confident wherever he plays on the pitch and will always give you maximum effort, but he is clearly more effective in the middle of the field. He’s looked energized the past couple weeks but frustrated at Arsenal’s inability to score. Playing Ramsey in the middle will allow Cazorla to rest and allow the Welshman to express himself more effectively.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Mesut Özil came in for a fair amount of unjustified criticism after Wednesday. The German created 7 goal scoring opportunities and looked to be Arsenal’s most incisive passer. He spurned a good goal scoring opportunity but he wasn’t the only player to do so on Wednesday from either team and his chance wasn’t the best of the game.
He doesn’t look tired and like Ramsey, seems energized but frustrated. Wenger won’t want to completely alter his midfield and having missed half the season, Özil will be fine to play this weekend and next weekend after a midweek game a few days ago.
Wide Right – Walcott
Theo Walcott looked sharper on Wednesday. He was more decisive with the ball at his feet and was moving off the ball well. He had a good shot saved and created an excellent chance for Tomas Rosicky. Besides Ospina, he was easily Arsenal’s best performer on Wednesday.
With West Brom likely to sit back as clubs managed by Tony Pulis do, Walcott’s style could suit Arsenal better in this match. He isn’t the most responsible or committed defender which won’t hurt Arsenal on Sunday and he is always looking for the tiny spaces to use his speed and provide passing option for the likes of Özil and Ramsey. Furthermore, he deserves a chance to start ahead of the FA Cup Final.
He will provide Arsenal with the energy that they have been lacking the best two weeks.
Wide Left – Rosicky
Alexis needs a rest and although he will likely pressure Wenger to play him, Wenger needs to sit the Chilean out. Alexis is clearly jaded and the long season is catching up to him. He is slowing Arsenal down, making poor passes, taking poor shots, and is being crowded out by the opposition too easily. A good rest before the FA Cup Final is essential and Arsenal will fare better without him this weekend for now.
Rosicky looked sharp and made some incisive forward runs during his cameo appearance on Wednesday. He deserves a start, having not played much for a while now. Arsenal just triggered a built in extension to his contract for next season and Wenger stated that Rosicky will have part to play next season.
In the past Wenger has used Rosicky extensively to end the season or to change something in the squad when they run out of momentum. This match seems like a typical Rosicky match.
Striker – Giroud
Giroud is a player in dire need of a rest. Unfortunately Arsenal do not have any other healthy strikers. Their options include Walcott, which is unlikely unless Jack Wilshere gets a second consecutive start, or Chuba Akpom, which is more unlikely considering he didn’t make the bench last weekend.
Giroud hasn’t scored in seven consecutive games now and admitted that Thierry Henry’s comments hurt his pride. I don’t think that those comments and Giroud’s form are related, rather he seems to be exhausted. I can’t imagine him lasting the entire match and I could see Walcott finishing the match as Arsenal’s striker.