Arsenal face Manchester City Monday in a match that will change the shape of the top four.
Leicester City is five and six points ahead of Arsenal and City with one more game played. A draw between the London and Manchester clubs would give the league leaders a small cushion while a win by either would close the gap, separating the top three by two or three points each.
Arsenal will be without Alexis who is returning from a hamstring injury. Arsene Wenger indicated the Chilean international could return to the bench on Monday. Alexis is likely pushing for a place in the starting lineup but Wenger will choose the more cautious option.
Manchester City will benefit from the return of Sergio Agüero, but club captain Vincent Kompany will miss out as will Samir Nasri, Fernando, and Pablo Zabaleta.
Besides Alexis, no Arsenal players are due to return from injury and Wenger confirmed everyone involved in last weekends win over Aston Villa is healthy and available.
Here is Arsenal’s most likely starting lineup against Manchester City.
Goalkeeper – Cech
Petr Cech’s presence and leadership in the dressing room was praised by Wenger over the weekend – specifically his ‘aura and charisma.’
Matches like Monday are why Wenger brought Cech to the club.
Right Back – Bellerin
Hector Bellerin will go toe-to-toe with Raheem Sterling. The two battled last season while the Englishman was still at Liverpool and Bellerin came out as a close winner.
Center Backs – Mertesacker & Koscielny
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have the experience and understanding to handle Agüero. The fact that the Argentine striker is only just returning from injury bodes well for Arsenal’s center back pairing as Agüero may not be as sharp as he usually is.
Gabriel will feature in the coming week during the congested Christmas schedule.
Left Back – Monreal
Nacho Monreal will come up against Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian international faced Arsenal during the preseason at the Emirates Cup, although the fitness level of de Bruyne and his former club, Wolfsburg, was vastly different from now.
Defensive Mid – Flamini
Mathieu Flamini has played well since Francis Coquelin’s injury, but Arsenal still needs an upgrade in the position.
Flamini was nominated by NME’s for their People of the Year award after GF Biomedical, a company he heavily invested in, developed Levulinic Acid, which is a substance that could replace all forms of oil.
Central Mid – Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey has played well since moving back to the middle of the field and has forged an excellent partnership with Mesut Özil. Ramsey will look to boss the midfield on Monday and Yaya Toure will have his hands full.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Özil added to his tally of assists last weekend with a neat layoff to Ramsey who blasted in to the open net. That gives Özil 13 assists in the league this year.
Monday is another opportunity to bolster his player of the season credentials, despite how early in the year we are.
Özil’s excellent relationship with Ramsey on the field is encouraging to see, especially considering the good relationship he shared with Santi Cazorla.
Wide Right – Campbell
Joel Campbell is likely the player to make way when Alexis returns to match fitness, but in the meantime he provides a nice defensive balance to Arsenal’s midfield.
He’s contributed well in attack, setting up a few and scoring twice, while working hard defensively. He’s played as well as anyone could have expected and has proven to be an asset as a squad player.
Wide Left – Walcott
Theo Walcott’s pace and timing will be a nuisance to Manchester City’s slower back four. His off the ball movement could create space for others playing behind him as City’s defense may look to sit deeper and prevent Walcott from running in behind.
It will be interesting to see if Wenger chooses to continue with Walcott on the wing when Alexis returns to the starting eleven.
Striker – Giroud
Olivier Giroud has found himself in a good vein of scoring. He scored yet again last weekend against Aston Villa, albeit a penalty, which came after a hat trick in the Champions League against Olympiakos.
He is due a rest and should receive one in the coming week once Alexis is fit again. In the meantime, he needs to make himself a handful against City on Monday.