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Picking the Strongest Possible Arsenal Starting XI to Face Wigan

Theo Walcott in action against Reading.
Theo Walcott in action against Reading.Scott Heavey/Getty Images
James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2012

The Christmas period is traditionally a time when manages opt for a rotation policy, utilising every member of the squad to keep their players fresh.  However, when a side lacking confidence has just turned in an impressive win and five-goal display like Arsenal, how much can you afford to change it?

It's an old footballing truism that defences don't benefit from rotation.  A back four improves by playing together regularly and developing in to a cohesive unit.  It's an area of the field where building an understanding between individuals is absolutely crucial.  Communication and organisation are key, and disturbing that process by bringing in a new player is rarely helpful.  

For that reason, I expect the likes of Laurent Koscieny, Carl Jenkinson and Andre Santos to remain on the sidelines at Wigan Saturday, and Arsene Wenger to persist with Wojciech Szczesny in goal and the athletic pair of Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs flanking Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker.

In midfield, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere should fill the deeper roles.  It's possible that Wenger might decide to leave Wilshere out, having spoken earlier in the season about his desire to afford the Englishman a rest every few games in his comeback campaign.  Were he to do so, he could bring in Francis Coquelin or Aaron Ramsey.  

That said, the fact that Arsenal's Boxing Day game with West Ham is likely to postponed means that Arsenal could afford to give Wilshere a little layoff over Christmas.  He is integral to the side, and so I expect him to start. 

Ahead of that, it is certain that hat-trick hero Santi Cazorla will start the game, and Arsenal fans will be hoping to see him supported by Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the wide positions.  Their movement and pace was consistently dangerous against Reading, and helped expose the Royals' weakness at full-back.  

Wigan's 4-3-3 system will provide a different challenge, but with confidence high it'd make little sense to change the attacking elements of the side.

It's for that reason that I expect Theo Walcott to keep Olivier Giroud on the bench and earn another chance to start as a central striker.  It's a difficult situation for Wenger: Walcott looks the best option to play up top at the moment, but doesn't really offer a long-term solution as he looks likely to walk away on a Bosman at the end of the season.  Nevertheless, I expect pragmatism to win the day, and Arsene to plump for Theo.

Wigan are the only team in this season's Premier League yet to keep a clean sheet at home.  Arsenal will be hoping the same attacking power that saw them overcome Reading will help them blow Wigan away.

Predicted Team (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen (c), Gibbs; Arteta, WilshereOxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski; Walcott.

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