How Arsenal Will Line Up Against West Brom

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How Arsenal Will Line Up Against West Brom
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger can apparently do no wrong at the moment.

The Frenchman has managed Arsenal to seven consecutive victories, erasing all memory of what was initially a shattering defeat to Aston Villa more than a month ago.

He has orchestrated this truly remarkable run using almost the exact same group of players during a congested period in the schedule. Injuries have eliminated almost all tactical freedom, of course, but Wenger has nevertheless found a profoundly effective blend.

At long last, he will be able to give some of his key players the rest that they so need and deserve.

Arsenal have never won the League Cup—known as the Capital One Cup for sponsoring reasons—during Wenger's tenure at the club, largely because of his reluctance to start many of his key players in a tournament that is generally regarded as less prestigious than other domestic competitions.

Despite the fact that the Gunners have been handed a somewhat unfavorable draw in West Brom (when they were equally likely to be matched with various lower-league clubs), it is highly unlikely that Wenger will refrain from allowing his best players to rest their tired legs.

There still are not a plethora of options at the manager's disposal, but Arsenal are facing the Baggies at a time when important squad members are returning from injuries to play their first minutes of the season.

Thus, there can be much more rotation than there would have been a week or two ago. This doubly benefits the freshly fit men attempting to regain their former fitness and those who have played numerous intense minutes since the start of the season.

Let's look at what starting XI Wenger might put on the pitch at the Hawthorns.

His first important choice concerns who will start in goal, as Wojciech Szczesny will almost certainly be afforded a deserved breather after playing all 720 minutes (plus stoppage time) of the season thus far.

There are two eminently capable options available to replace him, and neither are likely to remain with the club beyond this season.

Emiliano Viviano, fresh off the plane from Palermo, would receive valuable experience against Premier League opposition if he is afforded the opportunity to start. Lukasz Fabianski, on the other hand, ended last season superbly, keeping Szczesny out of the team.

Ian Walton/Getty Images
Jack Wilshere is one of many players who needs a rest

There is really no wrong choice here, but Fabianski, who is considerably more experienced and proven at this level and is aching for more games, will probably get the nod.

Carl Jenkinson is a fairly obvious choice at right back. He is still Bacary Sagna's backup, and he will get a chance to impress and further hone his skills against Premier League opposition after the Frenchman's move back to the flank restricted his playing time recently.

The centre-backs are a bit less obvious, however.

Thomas Vermaelen is a virtual certainty to wear the captain's armband for the first time in months after returning to full training a couple of weeks ago and receiving some fitness-building minutes. But who will start to his right?

Probably not Laurent Koscielny or Per Mertesacker, who have played in every match for which they have been fit this season. Rather, Arsene Wenger could hand 19-year-old Semi Ajayi, who just signed on after a successful trial according to the club's website, his debut.

Premier League opposition, even if it is not West Brom's best team, would certainly be quite a jump for the youngster, but perhaps he could benefit from Vermaelen's presence beside him.

Wenger's choices in midfield are even more difficult, due to the return of Mikel Arteta and the ability of some players to slot into multiple positions.

If Arteta is deemed fit enough, he will likely resume his invaluable metronomic role as the beating heart of Arsenal's midfield. Who will be in front of him is anyone's guess.

It truly depends upon how many players Wenger is willing to rest. If he wants to rotate as many as possible, Emmanuel Frimpong could be handed his first game time of the season, and 16-year-old Gedion Zelalem could be handed his competitive debut after a sparkling preseason.

Ian Walton/Getty Images

While Frimpong might start, Wenger will probably be a bit more conservative and opt for one of his stars to provide insurance. Why not hand Mesut Ozil his first start in his preferred central attacking midfield role?

Up front, Wenger also has a surfeit of young options who deserve starts.

Ryo Miyaichi has yet to start for the club, and it would be interesting to see what the young Japanese does with some extended minutes—which he has not been given due to injury for some time.

Serge Gnabry was quite impressive in his first career start against Stoke last weekend, at one point racking up a 96.2 percent pass completion rate, via Orbinho, and grossly exceeding Theo Walcott's usual passing rate, also via Orbinho.

There is some question about Walcott's fitness after he was pulled from the starting XI against Stoke with an abdominal problem. Wenger wondered aloud after the match if Walcott would only be out for a few days or if the winger's absence would be more prolonged, per Arsenal.com.

If he's fit, it would make sense for Miyaichi to start on his preferred left wing and Walcott to resume his command of the right.

But the most exciting decision that Wenger will make is that of who will start at striker, now that a certain Nicklas Bendtner is once again available for selection.

The Dane, who will now be sporting the No. 23 shirt, is Arsenal's only ready-made replacement for Olivier Giroud. The latter needs a break, after working so tirelessly in every single one of the Gunners' opening eight matches.

Bendtner did not participate in Arsenal's preseason activities at all and has not played a competitive fixture in months, so some rustiness should be expected. But while he might not be as excellent as his ego leads him to believe, Bendtner is a very talented player who can be a real threat as a second-choice option.

It will be very interesting to see how he responds to his first taste of English football in over a year, in his first game in an Arsenal shirt in over two.

The Gunners have lacked a good backup striker for years, and if Bendtner can reassimilate quickly, he will be able to spur the side to victory and give Wenger confidence in what is generally assumed to be a shallow squad.

 

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