It’s been just over a day since I posted the match report for the Stoke game. It creates an uncomfortable feeling that this game is coming too soon after the previous one. Is it the same for most of the clubs? Somehow I doubt it.
This proximity of fixtures will make Wenger’s job tougher. Given the injuries, especially in defence, Le Boss would probably have appreciated a chance to use one or two regulars in a game like this. But he will just have to play the hand he’s been dealt. If you want a peak at that hand and make some guesses, these pictures of the Gunners training for the game might help.
In his pre-match interview with Arsenal Player, Arsene named Frimpong, Coquelin, Miquel, Alex, and Park as the players who are likely to start. No surprises there. And I will be surprised if Fabianski, Rosicky, and Benayoun don’t get a start. That’s 8 out of 11. It will be interesting to see Wenger’s choices and how he balances the starting line-up.
The back four is completely open for debate. Some have suggested that Vermaelen could make a comeback, others are dreading that Squillaci will get on the team-sheet, Miquel could move to left back, Coquelin might play as makeshift right back, Yennaris or Meade could get a promotion from the reserves to fill in at their respective full back positions, and so on.
Ideally, I’d have preferred a strong defensive unit. Bolton boss Owen Coyle might not play his first eleven but is quite likely to put out a team that has a number of international players and significant Premier League experience. But it would be foolhardy to pick any of the four that started against Stoke. Arsenal have three big games starting with next weekend’s trip to Stamford Bridge. If the injured don’t make a timely return these defenders will have a heavy work load. This game should not be added to that even if winning the Carling Cup seems like an attractive possibility.
For now, Coquelin – Squillaci – Vermaelen – Miquel seems like the strongest available combination. Arsene mentioned that Coquelin is more suited to the midfield role but I am finding it hard to see any other player starting at right back. Playing Yennaris, or the forgotten man Eastmond, would be a big risk.
Moreover, I doubt there is a place for the youngster in the midfield. Frimpong, Rosicky, and Benayoun should start in the middle. If the French lad is drafted into the middle one of these three will have to move out of the starting eleven or shift to the wings, which will then affect the players who usually play on the flanks.
So, while Coquelin is more of an all-action, Flamini-type midfielder, he should show he can be versatile when the team needs him to perform a different role.
While the return of Vermaelen is an exciting prospect, many will surely be worried whether the manager has been forced into starting him sooner than advisable. In fact, now that I think about it, the Belgian will be lacking match fitness so he might not start at all. I won’t be surprised if a youngster like Boateng made the starting line-up.
Up front, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Park can be supported by Arshavin or Chamakh, depending on the role Arsene has in mind for Park. The Russian and the Moroccan are both in need of games so this will be a tough choice.
An interesting option for Arsene would be to go with a 3-5-2. This way he can have Vermaelen, Squillaci, and Miquel at the back. Pick AOC and Benayoun on the wings with Coquelin, Frimpong and Rosicky in the middle. Park and Chamakh can lead the line. I would love to see it just to see how it works out but I doubt Arsene will change the system.
Le Boss did go with a 4-4-2 last time out. He could do the same again with Benayoun and AOC on the wings, and Frimpong and Rosicky in the middle.
Possible starting eleven,
Fabianski – Coquelin, Squillaci, Miquel/Boateng(Vermaelen?), Miquel/Meade – Frimpong, Rosicky, Benayoun – AOC, Park, Arshavin.
I have left Chamakh out as I failed to spot him in the training pictures. The bench will have youngsters like Miyaichi, Aneke, Ozyakup, Sanchez Watt, Freeman, and others. In that regard the starting eleven will have to do the job. There isn’t much hope of a game changing performance from those with limited experience even if some like Ryo are highly rated. It’s not a slight on their fledgling careers but a simple matter-of-fact observation.
For the last couple of years I have believed Arsenal squad has been a man short in the defensive areas and a versatile player is needed. Emerging talents like Frimpong and Coquelin do add some strength in depth but in such games, and with the injury problems that Arsenal have, the squad does look a bit thin.
The Gunners have worked hard to create some defensive stability but that will be tested if a reserve level back four is put out. It will place a greater burden on the midfield and the attacking players will have to outscore the opponents as a clean sheet will be hard to keep. If nothing else, this could turn out to be a very open and exciting game.
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