Arsenal travels to the KC Stadium where they’ll take on Hull City Saturday morning. The Gunners are coming off a hard fought 1-1 draw in the Champions League against PSG. Although their performance wasn’t always convincing, their response to going one nil down within a minute away from home in Europe was impressive.
With a League Cup match coming up on Tuesday, Arsene Wenger will make a few adjustments but wait to fully rotate his squad midweek. Olivier Giroud will miss this weekend’s match with a toe injury. Wenger revealed the French striker is still struggling for fitness, which explains why he hasn’t started a match this season. It would be fair to question whether Giroud is really missing this weekend due to a toe injury or as punishment for his petulant display that got him sent off in the extra time on Tuesday.
Theo Walcott could return to the squad after sitting out with a minor knee injury. The English winger has shown promise early in the season in terms of his touch and defensive commitment. It’s likely he’ll find himself on the bench if deemed fit, although Tuesday seems like Walcott’s most likely return date.
Wenger was questioned about Granit Xhaka’s recent omissions from the starting eleven. The manager restated his belief in the player and admitted he needs more time to adapt to the pace of the Premier League and some of his midfield partners. Wenger also praised Mohamed Elneny, hinting the both will be involved soon again.
Here is Arsenal’s strongest lineup versus Hull City on Saturday.
Goalkeeper – Cech
Petr Cech returns to goal after David Ospina put in a man of the match performance on Tuesday. The Colombian will be the club’s “Cup Keeper” meaning Cech’s appearance will come in the league the majority of the season.
Right Back – Bellerin
Hector Bellerin was again left wanting on Tuesday and the Spanish right back hasn’t quite kicked into gear this season. He can’t seem to put together a complete match where he’s effective both in attack and defense. For now, as long as he maintains his defensive duties, Arsenal can’t complain.
Part of Bellerin’s struggles in attack may be down to Arsenal overall performance in the final third. They still look like a team under construction in terms of where their runs are going and how they’d like to move the ball.
Center Backs – Mustafi & Koscielny
Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny partner up in the back four once again. Mustafi has really been thrown into the fire since his arrival and it showed on Tuesday. The back four looked unorganized often and Koscielny and Mustafi need time to gel.
Gabriel recently returned to full training since suffering a serious ankle sprain early in August. He won’t make the squad this weekend, but will be available on Tuesday.
Left Back – Monreal
Nacho Monreal struggled to contain the surging Serge Aurier on Tuesday, but wasn’t helped by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who frequently failed to pick up the Ivorian’s runs.
Monreal will have an easier time against Robert Snodgrass.
Defensive Mid – Xhaka
Xhaka could make his first start since the international break. Although Wenger has cautioned the need for patience, the Swiss midfielder has a way of bringing immediate calm to Arsenal’s midfield that is suited to an away match in the Premier League. Additionally, Francis Coquelin could use a rest having played two consecutive matches in a week.
Central Mid – Cazorla
Santi Cazorla maintains his place in the squad, despite looking heavy legged on Tuesday. It’s possible Elneny could come in for the Spaniard but the manager usually doesn’t make wholesale changes. Tuesday evening is the more likely match for Elneny to get the start.
In theory, a Cazorla – Xhaka partnership should work well. Both are excellent passers and Xhaka’s ability to cover ground and shield the back four should highlight Cazorla’s attacking strengths.
Attacking Mid – Özil
Mesut Özil struggled for the second consecutive match on Tuesday. Once Giroud came on and Alexis Sanchez moved to the left late in the second half, Özil became more involved and it seems that when Alexis plays through the middle, he gets in the way of Özil.
Alexis’ habit of drifting back to pick the ball up and then pull wide left means nobody occupies the middle of the pitch. This limits Özil’s space and passing options. It also clutters the left, an area Özil too likes to drift to, getting in the way of whoever is playing out wide and isolates the right-winger. This could also explain why Bellerin has struggled when getting forward.
With Alexis set to play on the left this weekend, Özil should be granted the space to manipulate Hull City.
Wide Right – Iwobi
With Walcott likely to miss out and Oxlade-Chamberlain not playing well, Alex Iwobi gets the start. The manager has faith in the Nigerian youngster and his performances this year back it up.
Iwobi was fearless on Tuesday, and although he’s played better, his workman-like approach kept him on the pitch for the full 90-minutes. He had a chance to put Arsenal ahead late in the game, but his shot across goal was well saved. He admitted his frustration with the miss after the match – an encouraging attitude to see.
Wide Left – Alexis
It emerged earlier this week that Wenger had spoken to Alexis about playing him through the middle more regularly. Based on recent performances, it’s difficult to understand why the manager wants to play this way. Alexis has been most effective when playing on the left this year and Arsenal have looked more dangerous then as well. As discussed above, Alexis gets in the way of his teammates while playing as striker and his natural tendency is to drop deep and shift to the left anyways.
It’s hard to imagine Wenger persisting with this lineup for long, especially when it’s clear his team plays best with someone else through the middle. However, the manager can sometimes be stubborn and won’t want to give up on this experiment too quickly.
This weekend, we’ll see Alexis on the left merely because of the options available to Wenger.
Striker – Perez
Lucas Perez gets his second start for the club after featuring on the bench Tuesday. His debut last weekend was quiet and it’s clear he’s still looking for fitness. Perez is still going through the adaption period of moving to the Premier League but only more matches can help him at this point. An away fixture to Hull will be an excellent experience.