Arsenal take on West Brom at the Emirates this Thursday. A win will see the Gunners move into third place, two points ahead of Manchester City.
Arsenal are in danger of missing out on the top four based on their form these past two matches. Manchester United are four points off fourth, and a win on Thursday would put Arsenal seven points clear of fifth. A win Thursday would put Arsenal in good position to qualify for the Champions League for a 20th time under Arsene Wenger, although, that was the absolute bare minimum expectation this season.
The North London club have drawn their last two matches and the mood at the club is toxic. Wenger doesn’t seem to have any answers, the players seem lost on the pitch with nothing to play for, and the fans are quickly losing interest, with a large faction calling for a new manager.
While it’s become quite clear a new manager is needed at the club, it’s not quite the right time to make that change. Arsenal is ill equipped to function without Wenger at the moment due to a lack of a succession plan and the absence of footballing-minded individuals in the clubs hierarchy.
Wenger is so ingrained in the everyday functions of the club, that his departure would likely lead to a serious spiral comparable to that of Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson retired. This coming summer and the season that follows it is time that must be used to create a succession plan and restructure the club to function with a new manager.
As of writing this, the manager has yet to hold his press conference detailing the team news. As of Sunday, there were no new injuries to report, therefore, one should expect the squad to remain largely unchanged. It’s possible Jack Wilshere will make his return to the first team, albeit on the bench. It’s more likely we’ll see the England international feature for the first time this season on Sunday against Sunderland, considering he completed another 90-minutes for the Under-21’s on Monday.
Tomas Rosicky could also make a return to the first team, also on the bench. However, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are likely to miss out with Wenger stating last weekend that the duo would need another week to regain fitness.
The manager is likely to go with an almost unchanged squad, with rotation coming this weekend. Here is Arsenal’s most likely starting eleven on Sunday.
Goalkeeper – Cech
Petr Cech was less the convincing on Sunday. He did not seem sharp and his kicking was off throughout the match. His inability to keep out Yannick Bolasie’s long shot was a clear sign of the amount of time he had just spent out injured. Hopefully last weekend’s match has helped Cech regain some match sharpness ahead of Thursday’s match.
Right Back – Bellerin
Hector Bellerin starts again, although Calum Chambers could be biting at his heels with few matches left and not much to play for.
Bellerin’s crossing was off all day against Crystal Palace. His delivery must improve.
Center Backs – Koscielny & Gabriel
Neither Laurent Koscielny nor Gabriel did much wrong on Sunday. It’s clear that Wenger is going to stick with Gabriel for the rest of the season as he prepares him for a more prominent role next year. Per Mertesacker could see action on Sunday in place of Koscielny.
Left Back – Monreal
Nacho Monreal, like the center backs, did not do much wrong over the weekend, but his attacking contributions were left wanting. With Kieran Gibbs not even on the bench on Sunday, it’s hard to see Monreal being omitted from the squad against West Brom. Gibbs may get a chance on Sunday, depending on Thursday’s result.
Defensive Mid – Elneny
Mohamed Elneny starts in a deeper role than he has done the past few matches. Wenger could replace Francis Coquelin with the Egyptian after the Frenchman put in less than pleasing performance on Sunday. This decision would also give Wenger the chance to see Elneny and Aaron Ramsey play next to each other for an extended period of time.
Central Mid – Ramsey
Ramsey starts for the first time since returning from a three week lay off due to a muscular injury. The Welshman has come off the bench the past two matches, as Coquelin and Elneny were the preferred midfield duo. Thursday provides Ramsey the opportunity to gel with Elneny.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Mesut Özil pulled the strings all day for Arsenal on Sunday, but like in so many other matches this year, and last, his teammates were wasteful in front of goal.
Looking at Özil’s overall return this season, it’s hard not to be impressed. In total, the German maestro has 8 goals and 19 assists, bringing him close to being involved in almost 30 goals this season. Özil’s German compatriot, Mertesacker, stated that Özil is guaranteed to provide 30 goals a season to the club, outlining his importance to Arsenal’s future success.
Wide Right – Alexis
Wenger praised Alexis’s form the past two weeks. The Chilean has scored a goal in each of the past three matches, while assisting another three in the past five. His shift to the right has clearly freed him up and he is showing the form we saw last year. What’s most encouraging is that Alexis’s little flicks and turns are coming off successfully, something that had not been true for most of the season while playing on the left.
Wide Left – Iwobi
Alex Iwobi gets another start on the left. It’s hard to see him being pulled out of the lineup the rest of the season due to his form and the potential he has shown. Any game time he can get at this point will only be beneficial for player and club next season.
Strikers – Giroud
Danny Welbeck failed to make a significant impact on Sunday, although his nice flick to set Alexis up for a headed goal was a piece of exceptional technique.
The English striker is unlikely to be able to complete two matches in a week, which means Olivier Giroud will either start on Thursday or Sunday. Considering that Welbeck is still working on his fitness, it’s likely Giroud starts with only four days between matches. Welbeck’s pace and movement will be more useful in an away match on Sunday.