Arsenal take on Aston Villa at the Emirates in the final weekend of the Premier League season. With Villa sitting at the bottom of the table and having been assured of relegation for weeks, anything less than a win for the Gunners would be disappointing.
The North London club still has something to play for. Although a Champions League place has been secured, automatic qualification to the group stages has not. A win or a draw would do trick, ensuring Manchester City can’t catch up to Arsenal, and keeping the Gunners in third.
Additionally, Arsenal can still finish above rivals, Tottenham, allowing their fans to celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day. Spurs are two points ahead of the Gunners and have the better goal difference. If Newcastle were to beat Tottenham at home, Arsenal would finish the season in 2nd with a win. Anything less than an Arsenal win ensures Tottenham finishes in 2nd.
Sunday will be the last match for three of Arsenal’s experienced midfielders. Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini, and club captain Mikel Arteta are all out of contract after the season and their deals will not be renewed. In his press conference, Arsene Wenger described all three as “big personalities” and lauded all three’s leadership and influence at the club.
The manager did not commit to stating any of them would play, but hoped that “one or two” could take part. Flamini is the biggest doubt as he is dealing with an ankle injury. At the very least, Rosicky and Arteta should make the bench, and hopefully both will be allowed to say a proper goodbye to the Arsenal faithful.
In other team news, Mesut Özil will return to the squad after being a last minute scratch against Manchester City due to a slight hip injury last weekend. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will miss out and has been ruled out till July, meaning he will miss Euro 2016. Wenger confirmed that Jack Wilshere is ready to start after coming through 75-minutes last weekend, but did not guarantee a place in the starting eleven for the English international.
The manager also confirmed the unwelcome news that Danny Welbeck will miss at least nine months due to cartilage damage in his knee. When it was presented to him that Welbeck’s injury could alter Arsenal’s summer transfer plans, Wenger agreed that a striker is an absolute need.
It’s likely the manager will make a few tweaks this weekend, although he will not sacrifice quality as there is still much to play for. Here is Arsenal’s most likely starting lineup against Aston Villa on Sunday.
Goalkeeper – Cech
Petr Cech starts in goal to close out his first season at the club. It’s been a mixed bag this year for the Czech international. While his play has been significantly better than recent goalkeeping play of seasons past, Cech has showed a weakness for being beaten at his near post from long range.
He is undoubtedly a world-class keeper. His reflects’, aerial ability, and command of his box have been superb. But maybe we’re seeing a slow decline in pace in terms of how fast Cech can get down to make a save.
Right Back – Bellerin
Hector Bellerin had a strong season. His form became slightly inconsistent towards the end of the year, which is likely down to the fact that he played almost every game. Regardless, Bellerin was Arsenal’s only representative in the PFA Team of the Year.
The young Spaniard has immense potential and will want to finish his first full season in the senior team on a high note.
Center Backs – Gabriel & Koscielny
Per Mertesacker will sit out with a hamstring injury, thus, Laurent Koscielny will partner up with Gabriel once again. In his first full season with the club, Gabriel showed flashes of ability, but also some signs of concern.
It seems that Koscielny and Gabriel are too similar of players to play next to each other. Both play in a high-risk fashion, but Koscielny is better at it. Additionally, Gabriel still seems to struggle in communicating with his teammates, which has to improve over the summer.
It would not be surprising to see Wenger reinforce this area of the squad over the summer with both Mertesacker and Koscielny hitting 30, and Gabriel not showing consistency. Calum Chambers could make a bigger contribution at center back next year, as well.
Left back – Monreal
Nacho Monreal closes out an excellent season with the club on Sunday. He kept Kieran Gibbs at bay all year; to the point that it’s likely Gibbs will look for a new club this summer.
Defensive Mid – Coquelin
Francis Coquelin has been on the periphery of the starting eleven for a few weeks now. Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey had been the preferred choice but the manager should give the Frenchman a run out. Elneny has played a lot since February, as has Ramsey and the manager may want to spare the Welshman with the Euro’s in mind.
Additionally, Coquelin played for the Under-21’s on Tuesday, in what seemed like an attempt to keep him match fit. This was odd because Coquelin was not expected to make the French team for the Euro’s, nor had he been very involved in the past few weeks, so why keep him fit for one more game? The only logical reason is that Coquelin has a role to play this weekend.
Central Mid – Wilshere
As mentioned above, the manger may look to spare Ramsey ahead of the Euro’s. Giving Wilshere the chance to start in the middle of the park will be a good confidence booster for the player, and a vote of confidence ahead of this summer’s tournament.
Wilshere’s participation in Euro 2016 is important to Wenger because he believes it will be an excellent platform for the player to regain his form and improve his confidence. Replacing Ramsey with Wilshere does not represent a drop in quality in the slightest. In fact, it could be an improvement when looking at Ramsey’s form the past few weeks.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Özil returns to the starting eleven after recovering from a hip injury. The German playmaker still sits two assists behind Thierry Henry’s single season assist record. The odds are against him, but considering Aston Villa’s porous defense, it’s not unfathomable to think Özil couldn’t break the record in the last match of the season.
Wide Right – Alexis
Alexis has enjoyed a slight renaissance in form the last few months. He scored an excellent goal last weekend after some nice link up play with Olivier Giroud. He still has cut himself out as a disgruntled figure the last few weeks, though.
There has been some speculation that the Chilean could leave the club this summer. That seems unlikely, and his frustration should be expected as the club has failed this year. The fact that Alexis is unhappy is good because it shows ambition. Hopefully that ambition becomes contagious throughout the squad.
Wide Left – Iwobi
Alex Iwobi has seemed to hit a fatigue wall the past few weeks, as he has been unable to get past the 60-minute mark. It’s important to remember he is a young player who has never completed a full Premier League season. The off-season will prepare Iwobi for the rigors of the Premier League and he is now better equipped to prepare himself, as he knows what to expect.
He is an exciting player for the future that will hopefully be a joy to watch next year.
Striker – Giroud
With Welbeck out until next February, Giroud starts. Based on his performance last weekend, you’d imagine he would have gotten the start anyway. Giroud scored a well-taken header off of a corner, and then set up Alexis for Arsenal’s 2nd goal with a nice flick that put his teammate through.
This off-season could be pivotal for Giroud’s Arsenal career. It’s expected a striker will be brought to the squad, and it’s hoped that the new striker will provide real competition to Giroud. It’s not unreasonable to expect Giroud to be the 2nd choice striker next season, and not many would be unhappy with that prospect. That’s not a criticism of the Frenchman, rather a complement, as he brings quality as an option off the bench and in a rotational role.
Via – Lineup Builder