How Arsenal Will Line Up Against Everton

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IIApril 4, 2014

Arsenal's Premier League objective is no longer to win the title. It is simply to qualify for the Champions League.

That is because a formerly safe spot in the top four has been imperiled by the Gunners' own poor form and Everton's five-game winning streak. The Toffees currently sit four points behind Arsenal but have a game in hand.

This weekend's match between the two at Goodison Park is therefore of vital importance to both sides. It truly is, as the cliche goes, a "six-pointer."

If Everton win both this match and their game in hand, they will be in prime position to deny Arsenal Champions League football for the first time in Arsene Wenger's reign at the club. If the Gunners come out on top, however, Everton will have to make up a seven-point deficit in six games.

The good news for Arsenal is that Aaron Ramsey and Nacho Monreal will be back in the squad for the trip. Ramsey's return might appear to be more important given the spectacular form he was in before his injury, but Kieran Gibbs is missing with a persistent injury and with Laurent Koscielny unavailable, Thomas Vermaelen will not be able to fill in on the left.

Wenger therefore has more options in midfield and just as few in defense. Monreal might be forced into the starting XI, but Ramsey will almost certainly be handed a place on the bench after more than three months on the sidelines.

Here's how the manager might align his team:

It's worthwhile to compare this lineup to that which smashed Everton 4-1 at the Emirates a month ago in the FA Cup. It looked like this:

Lukasz Fabianski only started because he has been used as Arsenal's cup goalkeeper all season. Wenger would not be remiss if he put the Pole back in goal, but there is really no reason to replace Wojciech Szczesny and no precedent of the manager doing so this season.

More notably, though, Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta both started at the foot of midfield. Wenger tends to use them as a pair in his most conservative lineups, which indicates that he sees Everton as an attacking threat.

If he took the cautious route in an FA Cup quarterfinal, he almost certainly will do the same in a match that will largely determine whether or not his side get to stay in the Champions League. Wenger has always prioritized qualifying for Europe's premier club competition over winning the FA Cup.

If we assume that he will do the same against Everton this time, he will have few options for the rest of the midfield.

Essentially, there are four players for three positions: Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski.

In the absence of Mesut Ozil, Cazorla will almost certainly be given the spot as the creative hub of the team. With Theo Walcott gone, Oxlade-Chamberlain will likely be given another chance on the right wing.

The key choice, then, is between Rosicky and Podolski on the left.

Wenger has preferred Podolski in recent matches, probably due to the German's potent shot and outstanding delivery from the left side, but Rosicky is the sort of player who excels in significant matches and is a very trusted servant.

Arsenal have lacked attacking potency in recent times, though. With only 19 goals in 13 games since the beginning of 2014, they will need all the firepower they can get.

Rosicky gives Arsenal a better chance of retaining the ball for most of the match and reducing stupid giveaways. But Podolski gives them a better chance to score, if at the cost of defensive solidity. For that reason, he will likely start.


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