How Arsenal Will Line Up Against Sunderland

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IIFebruary 21, 2014

Arsenal don't have very long to wallow in their disappointment after losing to Bayern Munich, as they get right back to Premier League action this weekend against Sunderland.

The Gunners are only one point behind Chelsea, who sit at the top of the Premier League, and are two points ahead of third-placed Manchester City, though, the Citizens have a game in hand. Sunderland, meanwhile, are mired in a relegation battle and are currently positioned to spend next season in the Championship.

Yet despite the obvious gap in quality between the two sides, the Black Cats will have had a full week to bask in their 1-0 victory over Southampton and prepare for their trip to the Emirates.

Arsenal barely scrounged a draw against Southampton when they played them a few weeks ago and have just played four grueling matches in a row.

Their massacring at Anfield was followed by a tough tie against Manchester United, after which the Gunners spent their energy beating back Liverpool last weekend. If that was not a sufficiently difficult workout, they used what little energy they had left against Bayern Munich in midweek.

Arsene Wenger will thus look to his squad's depth to ensure that he fields a sufficient balance of depth and quality to take care of business against Sunderland.

Here's how he might line his team up.

The starting XI looks quite a bit like the one Wenger pitted against Bayern, but there are a few notable changes in areas where the squad could do with some rotation. There are also a few debatable inclusions.

Nacho Monreal comes in for Kieran Gibbs, who injured his hamstring in midweek. The Spaniard got absolutely torched by Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos and Co., but Sunderland don't exactly pose that sort of threat, so he should be in for a better day.

There is also a case for including Thomas Vermaelen instead of either Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny so that one of Arsenal's two stalwart centre-backs can get a much-needed rest.

This seems a pretty sensible decision, and the Belgian does not represent much of a drop in quality. But Wenger has virtually never done so in Premier League matches this season, so it is unreasonable to predict that he will do so here.

Things get more complicated as we move further up the pitch.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been so impressive in Arsenal's last two matches that he must start again if he is not totally knackered. The pace and drive he adds to both the Gunners' midfield and attack is invaluable in the absence of Theo Walcott and the team is noticeably one-dimensional when he is not present.

And as controversial and unlikely as this may be, Mesut Ozil should be dropped.

His performance against Bayern Munich, even discounting his incredibly poor penalty, was simply not up to snuff. It was probably such a stinker because he has been asked to play in almost every minute of almost all of Arsenal's matches—something he was never asked to do at Real Madrid.

The guy needs a rest. Thankfully, Santi Cazorla only played for 39 minutes against Bayern and is the perfect replacement for the German at the tip of the midfield.

That leaves Wenger with a decision about who to play on the left. And while Tomas Rosicky would be a safe and perfectly fine choice, Lukas Podolski should be given the chance to add some goals to his tally as a direct, no-nonsense option who can support Olivier Giroud up front.

And Giroud almost certainly will be starting, following two consecutive exclusions from the starting XI.

Whether they were due to the revelations of his extramarital transgressions or the fact that he had simply run his legs off over the course of the season, Giroud is certainly fit after a week-and-a-half rest.

He must replace Yaya Sanogo, who, though extremely impressive in his first two starts for Arsenal (against Liverpool and Bayern Munich, consecutively!), looked absolutely spent in the final minutes of the Bayern match.


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