Arsenal travel to Hull for what looks, on paper, like a dress rehearsal for May’s FA Cup.
However, in reality it’ll probably be a very different affair. For starters, Steve Bruce will be able to field his January signings Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic. Come the final, they’ll both be cup-tied.
Arsenal’s XI may look very different in a month’s time too. The squad has been ravaged with injuries, meaning that with each passing week Arsene Wenger must revamp his line-up.
This time, however, the news is more positive. Speaking to Arsenal.com, Wenger confirmed:
I think [Kieran] Gibbs will be out for the weekend. But [Nacho] Monreal is possibly available and [Mesut] Ozil could be available to travel as well. I will see about that on Friday and Saturday.
The return of Monreal would surely guarantee a place in the starting line-up. Thomas Vermaelen fared ably against West Ham, but he is no left-back. Monreal is accustomed to the role, and he provides a greater attacking threat on the overlap than the Belgian.
Aside from that, it’ll surely be the same defensive unit who coped admirably with the threat of Andy Carroll in midweek. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will play at centre-back, with Bacary Sagna tasked with guarding the right flank.
Wojciech Szczesny will continue in goal, hoping to impress enough to earn a spot in the FA Cup Final XI. Lukasz Fabianski was the hero in the semi-final, and the battle between those two for a final place is an intriguing sub-plot in the climax to Arsenal’s season.
In midfield, Arsenal’s options are beginning to increase. Wenger confirmed to the club’s official website, “We have Flamini available as well because he was suspended.” Given how fresh Flamini will be after sitting out 210 minutes of action against Wigan and West Ham, he is all but certain to start. Alongside him, Arsenal could welcome Aaron Ramsey back in to the fold, affording a rest to the creaking limbs of Mikel Arteta.
Ahead of that, Arsenal are lifted by the possible return of Mesut Ozil. Wenger has urged caution, stating:
It's good to have him back because we had so many offensive players out. He gives you always opportunities to score and I have to test him physically tomorrow and Saturday to see if he can travel.
Given that Ozil has taken full part in training this week, he is certain to make the journey north. However, Wenger may not choose to throw him straight in to the starting XI. It’s possible that Ozil will wait on the bench before being introduced in the second half. In that case, Wenger will choose one of Tomas Rosicky or Santi Cazorla to fill the central playmaking berth.
After a brace on Tuesday night, Lukas Podolski will surely keep his place on the left wing. On the opposing flank, Wenger has the option of reintroducing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to provide the team with an injection of pace and energy.
Up top, Olivier Giroud will be asked to give his all for the team once more. Against West Ham, he reached a creditable tally of 20 goals this season. If he can add to that total between now and May, he will come out of the campaign with a good deal of credit.
Possible Arsenal Starting XI to face Hull:
(4-2-3-1) Wojciech Szczesny; Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Bacary Sagna; Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey; Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Olivier Giroud