It’s that time again. A tricky Cup tie is upon us, eleven first team players are unavailable and we have a potentially decisive set of league fixtures lined up for the next fortnight. Le Boss has to walk the tightrope once again and hope that the squad has enough depth and quality to get a result.
Just to put things in perspective, we are visiting a team that has scored 19 league goals in 21 games, that is less than a third of our goals. Stoke have scored 15 at home from 11 matches, which is marginally better.
If this were a league game I have no doubt a full strength Arsenal team (even from those available) would be favorites. In some ways it is a measure of Wenger’s work that a youthful squad is still expected to comfortably win away at the Britannia. How else would you explain odds of 3/4 or 4/5 for the Arsenal while Stoke fetch 7/2.
Arsene has to find a balance between maintaining our momentum, keeping us in the hunt for the FA Cup and resting players before the big games in the coming days. While the FA cup may be third in our list of priorities, it is not a competition Arsene would want to sacrifice. I like it when Arsene says he will put out a team capable of winning the game. What some people fail to realize is that the Arsenal first team is, in most cases, far superior to the opposition. So even when we rest some of the players, we should have a team that is capable of winning the game. Playing youngsters in a balanced team should not be considered as disrespectful or sacrificial in anyway.
That brings me to the magic word – Balanced. I think Arsene has realized that we need a solid and experienced defense to provide stability and confidence to the youngsters. Once we ensure the goal is well protected, it is much easier for the lesser experienced players to play their game as they know they can afford a mistake or two. For this reason, unless they are really struggling, we will see at least one of Vermaelen and Gallas on the pitch.
Similar questions will have to be answered for other positions as well. If Clichy is completely fit he should be fresh enough to play. Denilson is another who might play if he has fully recovered. Rosicky too hasn’t played too many games this season but the problem with him is that he keeps picking up niggling injuries every time he plays regularly. Walcott and Vela should certainly get a start. Sol Campbell might also chip in with a second debut and Silvestre is also an option at the back.
These players should provide a relatively experienced foundation for the team leaving two or three places for the youngsters. The unfortunate aspect our our squad is that most of our defenders can’t step into a DM role, a position where we are really short. Another problem area is the Right Back position where we don’t have any experienced player as Sagna needs a rest.
Can Sol Campbell play Right Back? Or maybe we can have Gallas at right back and Campbell in the center. Would it make sense to break the WG-TV partnership for one game? Can we play any of Silvestre, Clichy or Traore on the Right? Or will Arsene put the big responsibility on the young shoulders of Eastmond or Coquelin? My choice would be to put Gallas on the Right and Campbell in the Center along with Vermaelen. This would give us a very strong back four and make it easier for the youngsters in front.
Eastmond is likely to continue his education with another difficult job at a very physical away game. Denilson and Rosicky would be my choice for his partners in the middle with the Czech maestro having the creative responsibility.
Up front I would put Vela through the middle with Walcott on the right and Wilshere on the left. The three of them should be able to change positions at will.
My starting line up would look like,
Fabianski; Gallas, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Eastmond, Denilson, Rosicky; Walcott, Vela, Wilshere.
It is quite impossible to guess Wenger’s starting line up. I have picked a very strong defense that should help us negate the limited attacking options that Stoke have. The big risk is in playing Gallas and Vermaelen, but I reckon they have played well so far this season so why should this game be different. Arsene might even start with Fabregas to give the team more of an attacking edge.
Le Boss might even change the tactics or the formation to use the pace of Vela and Walcott but I doubt that. He has shown enough confidence in the youngsters so far and is likely to stick with the same formation and tactics.
In any case, I think it is imperative we have Cesc and Arshavin at least on the bench. I feel these two can help us recover even from a two goal deficit in the final half hour just in case things don’t go as planned. We will be pushing our luck if we don’t have a strong bench.
We definitely want a result in this game as the fifth round is scheduled for 13th Feb and if this goes into a replay we might just have another irritating fixture between the United and Chelsea games. That will really stretch our resources.
I am gunning for a 2-1 win.