Arsenal face Newcastle on Sunday at St. James’ Park, as the Premier League moves into its final month of fixtures.
Arsenal have finally started to put some results together in recent weeks. They managed two wins against AC Milan, as well as one against Watford, Stoke City, CSKA Moscow and Southampton. Then they finished off the CSKA quarter-final tie on Thursday with a 2-2 draw.
It’s not all plain sailing though, particularly after the last couple of weeks.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan came off injured in the first-leg against CSKA, and Jack Wilshere seemed to be struggling with a knock in the second. David Ospina picked up an injury in training and Ainsley Maitland-Niles is also seemingly still out. Ospina and Maitland-Niles are back in training, but probably still short for the moment.
Plus, Aaron Ramsey needed staples in his leg to keep playing on Thursday.
Mohamed Elneny picked up a red card, which would’ve made him ineligible for this match. Then the FA overturned the dismissal, meaning he’s now available.
So how will Wenger set up his side for the weekend, to try and find the balance between resting players after Thursday and still putting out a side that can win the match?
Let’s try and work it out…
Next: Goalkeeper, Defence, Midfield, Attack and full XI
There’s not really much choice here for Arsene Wenger, as David Ospina probably won’t be back in time for Sunday. Petr Cech is taking over in all competitions at the moment, but he was already the team’s starting goalkeeper in the Premier League either way.
Cech needed a penalty save to finally achieve his 200th clean sheet against Watford last month. David Ospina got one against Stoke City in the 35-year-old’s absence, but normal service resumed with a mix up in defence between Cech and Mustafi against Southampton.
Then again, the second to last team Cech managed a clean sheet against was Newcastle in December. Hopefully he can repeat the trick away from home.
Next: Defence, Midfield, Attack and full XI
Arsenal’s strongest line-up of Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal all played on Thursday. Arsene Wenger won’t want to take risks with Monreal and Koscielny’s fitness, considering their injury problems.
However, Bellerin and Mustafi will probably start as they usually do. Bellerin made his 40th start for the club on Thursday, so you can count on him to play the majority of the time.
I’d guess that means Sead Kolašinac and Calum Chambers to come into the team. The pair both started against Southampton and put in decent performances. Chambers then came off the bench again in Russia and did well.
Next: Midfield, Attack and full XI
This is starting to look a bit of a problematic area for Arsenal, so it’s lucky the FA didn’t uphold Elneny’s red card. Aaron Ramsey will have a scar after that CSKA game, but he’ll probably start anyway. After all, the team don’t play again until the following Sunday.
I think Jack Wilshere might get a rest on this occasion. He hasn’t looked good in recent weeks and he took a couple of knocks in Moscow. There’s no real reason to risk him.
That does depend on whether Granit Xhaka is available though. He’s back in training, so hopefully he’s recovered from the flu, and he’ll take the third position in midfield.
If he hasn’t, and Wilshere is also unavailable, Arsenal may have to turn to Joe Willock. The youngster started against Villarreal Youth on Tuesday, but sat out Friday’s u23 match against Swansea City, so he should be fresh if required.
Next: Attack and full XI
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will start, as he looks to keep his fantastic start to life at Arsenal going. He has six goals and one assist in his first seven matches.
Meanwhile, Alexandre Lacazette scored two goals in the first-leg against CSKA Moscow, but he’s only played 96 minutes in the two matches since. Since Danny Welbeck played the full 180, and Mkhitaryan is out, perhaps this will be our first chance to see Lacazette and Aubameyang starting together.
If they do, Aubameyang will probably move out to the left, as he has when they’ve been on the pitch at the same time so far.
Mesut Özil will probably take the third spot, especially after his great goal against Newcastle earlier in the season. It’s possible Alex Iwobi or Reiss Nelson could replace either Özil or Lacazette though, depending on what Arsene Wenger thought of their performances over the last week.
Final starting XI
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Chambers, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey; Aubameyang, Ozil; Lacazette.