How Arsenal Will Line Up Against Stoke City
Wenger cannot go too wrong with his team selection at the moment; teams largely composed of the same players have won every single game they have played since losing on opening day to Aston Villa.
Of course, the squad has not retained its composition solely because of its exceptional cohesion. In some areas, Wenger literally does not have anyone else to select.
After Olivier Giroud went down against Sunderland, there was some issue about who he would be replaced by, in the absence of a seasoned backup and Yaya Sanogo. Presumably, Giroud and other players will require a rest at some point, but if the medical team deems them healthy, we know who will be starting in certain positions.
But there is also some relief coming down the pike. Wenger just revealed (via Arsenal.com) that midfield maestro Mikel Arteta will return to full training today, and will be considered for selection against Stoke.
As Bleacher Report's own Alex Dimond wrote, Arteta's return creates a host of tactical problems for the Gunners and the manager, who will have to assess his vice-captain's fitness and weigh Arteta's leadership and metronomic passing against the unequivocally positive impact that Mathieu Flamini has had on the team.
But points are won at the back. And Wojciech Szczesny, who has rid himself of the bouts of immaturity that occasionally plague him, will almost certainly be permitted to keep up his fine run.
When Szczesny looks to his right, he will likely see the familiar face of Bacary Sagna, who is back in his natural right-back position now that Arsenal actually have the requisite number of central defenders.
And his return to the flank is a big boost. He still provides the most reliable and consistent option, as Carl Jenkinson has understandably not finished his development yet. Despite two broken legs, Sagna has shrugged off any suggestions that he is slowing down or losing effectiveness.
Next, Wenger comes to his first tactical conundrum. Thomas Vermaelen, the captain, is once again fit, but Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have formed an outstanding partnership in the heart of the defense.
Unless one of the two is substantially fatigued from their exertions against Marseille in midweek, it is probably wise to stick with the pair that has formed Arsenal's bedrock since the end of last season. Vermaelen will eventually get his chance, but he should at least build a little more fitness first.
On the left, Nacho Monreal will be a bit disappointed to miss out again, but how can Arsene Wenger drop Kieran Gibbs at the moment? The Englishman has remained healthy and is really beginning to exploit his potential.
Now that his natural attacking instincts are paired with a tenacious defensive attitude, he is emerging as one of the best left-backs in England.
In midfield, things are a bit more convoluted.
Mikel Arteta is not so essential to the team, as it is currently constructed, that he needs to be pushed back into the starting XI with only a day of full training before he steps onto the pitch.
Aaron Ramsey's seeming ability to excel at every midfield role simultaneously, and Jack Wilshere's similarly pugnacious attitude have allowed Arsenal to play at a blinding pace recently. I wouldn't mess with that if I were Wenger.
However, the man who Arteta would most likely replace is Mathieu Flamini; quite an upgrade on paper, but the Frenchman's constant running around the pitch and highly effective vocal communication with, and direction of, his teammates has provided Arsenal the organization and cohesion for which they normally look to Arteta.
Now we move up to the forward three, and these players can virtually pick themselves.
Those are two very decent options to have, of course. But when there is no competition, the players whose positions are unopposed generally suffer a dip in form. Such complacency will probably befall Ozil, but the sooner everyone is back and challenging for places, the better the team will be.
We all know who will start at striker. Even if Wenger had alternative options at his disposal, very few players in the world would get picked ahead of the white-hot Olivier Giroud.
Most of the attention he receives is a result of his remarkable scoring streak, which has seen him rack up five goals during this young season. Yet those are simply the products of some of the most exquisite build-up play that a striker can produce—watch Giroud carefully and observe the deftness of every little flick and the thought behind every run.
Perhaps more than any other individual, Giroud enables the attack to maintain its swashbuckling style. It is no coincidence that so many of Arsenal's victories have emanated, in some form or another, from his boot.
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