How Arsenal Will Line Up Against Liverpool
Arsenal have slipped a bit from their previous mouthwatering form. But since their two recent losses were in non-Premier League games, they still top the standings by two points.
The team immediately below them is Liverpool, surging into second place thanks to the lethal combination of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. The Reds are only two points behind Arsenal and will arrive at the Emirates Stadium plump with confidence.
Meanwhile, Arsenal are entering their most difficult period of the season by far. The coming match will be followed by a midweek trip to Borussia Dortmund before they hop back to England to clash with Manchester United.
Arsene Wenger has a lot to think about. Let's look at which players he might pick to start.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny
There's absolutely no reason for Arsene Wenger to drop Wojciech Szczesny, who has really matured and become consistent after some brief early-season struggles.
The Pole has played every minute of Arsenal's Premier League and Champions League campaigns because he is quite simply the most effective option for the Gunners in the short and long term.
Right-Back: Bacary Sagna
The Frenchman has returned to his consistently excellent self this season after a significant hiccup last campaign.
The defensive stability is present as ever, but Sagna has recently displayed an ability to pick a cross that has taken his game to a different level.
Even if Carl Jenkinson delivered a stellar performance against Chelsea, he probably would not have been recalled. But Jenkinson made a catastrophic error that handed the Blues a goal, showing he still has a very long way to go before he is as good as Sagna.
Centre-Back: Per Mertesacker
A healthy Per Mertesacker will almost always be included in Arsenal's starting XI because there is simply no other player like him in the team.
He is the only one willing to stay back and play the role of calm distributor, letting his more pugnacious partner (whomever that may be) pursue the current attacking threat.
Mertesacker's presence has helped form the bedrock of Arsenal's defensive revival, and his inclusion in matchday squads is now not even a matter of debate.
Centre-Back: Laurent Koscielny
Thomas Vermaelen might get a charitable nod from Arsene Wenger after doing relatively well against Chelsea. However, Laurent Koscielny's exclusion from the lineup would simply not be merited by the quality of his recent performances.
The Frenchman is a thoroughly dynamic defender who can roam within a large area on the left side to harry and press encroaching midfielders and forwards.
He possesses enough pace to recover lost ground and a very unusual leaping ability that allows him to be competitive on set-pieces.
Koscielny was particularly impressive when Borussia Dortmund were in their most swashbuckling attacking rhythm.
He can be counted on to prevent potential threats from materializing.
Left-Back: Kieran Gibbs
Gibbs is the best option Arsenal have at the moment in all facets of left-back play.
His training as a winger is often apparent when he marauds down the flank to support the attack, and he has developed a defensive discipline that was not present earlier in his career.
In a way, the situation with Gibbs and Nacho Monreal is similar to that of Koscielny and Vermaelen. Wenger could justify selecting either man, but one clearly merits his picking based on current form.
After finally getting a rest against Chelsea, Gibbs will be fresh and even more able to race down the wing than he usually is.
Midfielder: Mikel Arteta
With Mathieu Flamini likely to be forced out of the lineup due to a groin injury, Arteta—now back from a one-game suspension—is a virtual certainty to anchor Arsenal's midfield unless he injures himself before the match.
As he has been for the last season, Arteta is the metronome allowing Arsenal to execute successfully their tiki-taka style to such great effect.
Attacks and counter-attacks are sustained largely because players like him keep the ball moving and allow the forwards to work their magic.
He will also sit in front of the defence and snuff out any emerging threats with more discipline than many others in the team can muster. In the absence of Vermaelen, he'll lead the team out of the tunnel.
Midfielder: Aaron Ramsey
Ramsey's inclusion against Chelsea was quite a surprise; though there were no other senior midfielders to cover for him, the Welshman really needs some rest.
He plays virtually every minute of Arsenal's matches, running more—and more intensely—than any other player.
The Liverpool game is not the time to give him a breather.
Incredibly, he is still Arsenal's top goalscorer in all competitions, leading Olivier Giroud, a striker, by eight goals to six. That is partially due to luck. But Ramsey manufactures chances for himself through tremendous effort and an engine that never gives out.
Until he gives Wenger reason to make a different decision, his inclusion in the squad is absolutely necessary these days.
Midfielder: Mesut Ozil
The fact that Ozil played against Chelsea was almost equally surprising as Ramsey's inclusion, although the German only ran for about a half hour.
After playing so much of late, and suffering from sickness against Borussia Dortmund, he could have used some time off.
But Liverpool are the sort of team that Ozil was bought specifically to help Arsenal beat. In a game whose result will probably depend on which attack is more prolific, having Ozil firing at the tip of midfield will be invaluable.
Arsene Wenger might not play Ozil for the entire match if Arsenal are clearly dominating, but that's doubtful. He will be necessary for as long as the Gunners need to create chances.
Look for Ozil to rebound significantly ahead of a stretch when Arsenal will really need him.
Right Winger: Jack Wilshere
Another surprising inclusion against Chelsea, Wilshere will probably get another shot to impress on the right wing in the continued absence of Theo Walcott.
Unless Arsene Wenger substantially rejigs his formation, Serge Gnabry is the only other competitor for the position.
Wilshere was brilliant on the right against Norwich City a couple weeks ago and did much better there than on the left when Arsenal played Borussia Dortmund. His tendency to dribble and cut inside serve him well on that flank.
Still, though, Wilshere is not a winger by trade and understandably drifts into midfield whenever he can, leaving the Gunners without width on the wing. Bacary Sagna will have to work much harder to make up for the absent body.
Left Winger: Santi Cazorla
Cazorla's inclusion in midweek was not quite as surprising as that of Ramsey or Wilshere, for the Spaniard is still building match fitness and sharpness after returning from injury. Arsene Wenger allowed him to complete his first full match since coming back.
Cazorla might still be a little rusty, but there is simply no better option on the left than him.
Even a mostly-fit Cazorla is preferable to a fully-fit Lukas Podolski in most instances. Wenger will certainly not want to take the risk of starting either of Ryo Miyaichi or Serge Gnabry.
It will be interesting to see whether he is allowed to complete the entire match, particularly against an opponent that is not very daunting compared to the others that Arsenal are about to face in a hellish stretch.
It would be advisable to keep him on the pitch for as long as possible.
Striker: Olivier Giroud
Giroud is in such outstanding form at the moment that benching him would be lunacy—Nicklas Bendtner's performance against Chelsea was nowhere near good enough to plant even a seed of doubt in Arsene Wenger's head
Sure, the Frenchman's banging in the goals, but the most remarkable and aesthetically pleasing aspect of Giroud's recent maturation is his link-up play.
Often dropping deep into midfield, he has forged a reliable understanding with his teammates and can mirror their movements to allow attacks to flow through various channels.
Without Giroud, Arsenal's forwards cannot operate as effectively, the team loses any attacking aerial threat and there is no one with a clinical finishing touch to put away chances.
If Giroud fires against Liverpool, then so will Arsenal.