There are few clubs in the Europe with as much hidden depth as Arsenal. Injuries have dammed up Arsenal’s reservoir of quality this season but tides seem to be changing in favour of the Gunners for once. While high quality starters in the form of Walcott and Özil are returning to the set up, they now face competition from the in-form Sanchez, Cazorla and Rosicky. At the back, the impending addition of the Brazilian Gabriel Paulista from Villarreal is set to strengthen Arsenal’s defensive depth. Arsene Wenger is faced with a selection dilemma. A consistent starting line-up is needed if Arsenal wants to challenge for major honours, if entirely injury-free what is Arsenal’s strongest XI?
Starting at the back, Arsenal has featured three different goalkeepers this season, Wojciech Szcz?sny, David Ospina and Emiliano Martinez. For the better part of the season, Wojciech has been the undisputed starting goalkeeper, despite a plethora of frustrating errors. Ospina failed to challenge Szcz?sny in early part of the season largely due to a recurring injury allowing Martinez to make his claim while the club No. 1 recovered from his own injury. Martinez showed promise but it proved too soon for him. He was below the standard required at a big club challenging for silverware.
Eventually, enough was enough for Wenger, and now that all three are fit Ospina has been handed the starting role. This has been the correct decision. Ospina is diminutive compared to other towering figures holding down goal in world football and his collection of the ball from corners and similar situations is underwhelming. He is experienced and is like a bucket of cold water, calming his penalty area in a reserved manner. He has yet to be seriously challenged by opposition but that it is testament to how well organised he has made the defenders in front of him. The few shots that have come his way have been handled calmly and confidently.
Arsenal’s squad depth has failed to flow to the central defensive area which has at times resorted to using Monreal as cover. Gabriel Paulista is the answer. At only 24 years old, he can be seen as long term addition to the centre back position. He boasts pace and an aerial ability that had seen him tipped as one of the biggest defensive prospects in his two years in La Liga. He’s well positioned to be a world class defender but he is still some way from the final product, which suits Wenger. Currently, Arsenal’s defensive personnel includes: Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Monreal, Debuchy, Bellerin and Chambers. Due to injuries a consistent back four has been hard to come by but the combination of Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs, has provided the most solid and balanced combination. Gibbs is more mobile than Monreal allowing him to change direction quickly when attacked at pace accompanied by decent tackling ability. His quick feet and creativity in the final third also make him more of an attacking threat. Debuchy is a regular starter for France at fullback and provides height, strength, defensive stability and an attacking threat while Bellerin purely provides pace and an attacking threat. The pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny has been Arsenal’s only recognised centre back pairing this season and last, as they set out to make their former captain a glorified bench warmer. Mertesacker provides the height and leadership while Kos brings the pace and tough tackling. Both are good readers of the game and make few mistakes. It is unlikely Paulista will disrupt the pairing this season and is likely to assist in rotation until next season where he is sure to challenge for the BFG’s position.
Midfield is where the serious selection dilemma lays. Arsenal’s depth in talented and creative midfielders can perhaps only be challenged by Bayern Munich. Cazorla’s world-class form was apparent in his one man mission to humiliate Manchester City in the last league game, while Rosicky proved he still has a place at Arsenal with an impeccable performance in the FA Cup. Özil has been relatively quiet in games since his return but it was expected after his honeymoon with the medical staff, but he was still able to notch a goal.
The midfield also boasts the likes of captain Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Coquelin and the less impressive, Flamini. Wenger will undoubtedly be racking his mind as to how to allow all these players grace the pitch at the same time while not compromising on the defensive aspect of the midfield. The best way appears to be to ditch the double-pivot and switch to a single defensive mid behind two more attacking players.
Defensive mid can be occupied by Coquelin, Flamini, Wilshere, Arteta or Ramsey. Arteta is an accomplished passer of the ball but fails to read the defensive side, and even then his age prevents him from winning the ball in duels and he struggles to cover a stretched defence. On the other hand, Wilshere and Ramsey have proven to be more valuable in the final third and Flamini’s reading of the game suggests he needs it to be written in braille. Coquelin has proven a surprising hero in defensive mid amidst the calls for a new signing. His tackling completion rate and cover for the defensive unit have been a breath of fresh air. On current form Cazorla is undroppable. That essentially leaves one spot for Wilshere, Özil and Ramsey. Injuries have kept the handbrake on the trio’s season making it essentially a value judgement as to who would be more valuable. Surely Özil is undroppable? At his peak he is in the top 3 playmakers in the world but a low defensive work rate lets him down. Ramsey makes a strong claim as well, when on form his goal scoring record can only be likened to Frank Lampard while also being more of a box-to-box midfielder willing to do both sides of the game. Wilshere is immensely talented but is yet to deliver the consistently outstanding performances one would expect of him. On matter of principle it appears this third spot should be a rotating award based on form with Özil getting the first nod due to his supreme class. A tough selection call.
Midfield: Cazorla-Coquelin- Özil
The front line is an easy choice. This part of the team lacks the most depth but is able to compensate in terms of quality. The options for the front line are Sanchez, Chamberlain, Welbeck, Giroud and Walcott. Sanchez is Arsenal’s best forward and top goal scorer and simply waltz’s into the team without contest. Giroud’s involvement in build-up is better than Welbeck’s and he provides a physical, aerial threat. Giroud’s finishing is bad either. On the right wing it is a straight choice between Walcott and Chamberlain. Despite Chamberlain’s impressive form this season, his final product and decision making in the box leave much to be desired forcing him to make way for Theo.
Arsenal’s Best Possible Starting XI (4-3-3):
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