Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace: Key Selection Decisions for Arsene Wenger
After a seemingly endless summer that included a World Cup and a truncated preseason, it's time to finally put the drama to rest (for a couple of hours, at least) and get the Premier League season underway.
At this stage, it is not entirely certain how Arsene Wenger will align his team for the first game of the year.
The uncertainty surrounding the fitness of a few of his players reduces the manager's tactical options.
Let's look at some of the biggest dilemmas the Arsenal boss is facing.
Per Mertesacker or Calum Chambers?
When both men are fit, Mertesacker would obviously start at center back beside Laurent Koscielny.
However, Mertesacker only returned from vacation four days ago and must be miles from full fitness. All three Germans who went to the World Cup are on individualized training regimens directed by Shad Forsythe, their trainer in Brazil, but he will likely not be ready for a game of Premier League intensity just yet.
The only reason this is even a dilemma is because Arsene Wenger rightly loves playing Mertesacker and very rarely keeps him out of the starting XI. Chambers will probably do a fine job as the German's replacement, but he does not instill as much confidence.
How to Arrange the Midfield
There are several ways for Arsene Wenger to select his midfield, depending on who he favors and who he plays on the wing (more on that anon).
Mikel Arteta will almost certainly start in defensive midfield, while Jack Wilshere in the middle and Aaron Ramsey at the top sounds like a reasonable completion of the threesome.
That's the one Wenger will probably opt for, but he could shove Wilshere out, put Ramsey in his natural spot in the middle and slot Santi Cazorla into the attacking role for which he is most suited.
However, with Lukas Podolski unfit, that raises the issue of who to start on the left wing.
Who to Start on the Left Wing?
If the midfield three of Arteta, Wilshere and Ramsey starts, there is no question that Cazorla, a favorite of Wenger, will start on the left wing.
However, change that arrangement and put him in the middle, and suddenly there is a question about who will be slotted in on the left side.
It could be Tomas Rosicky. While no longer first choice, he is an energetic player who Wenger has trusted with playing there before.
However, it is more likely to be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who combines the passing ability of Cazorla and Rosicky with the pace of a winger.
Crystal Palace's full-backs would no doubt be quivering at the thought of dealing with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez in the same match.
Olivier Giroud or Yaya Sanogo
Though it will be difficult to tell Olivier Giroud he has to sit on the bench after scoring an absolute stunner against Manchester City in the Community Shield, the Frenchman is not yet completely fit.
Yaya Sanogo has been extremely impressive in preseason, scoring a foursome of goals against Benfica in the Emirates Cup, and he looks fitter than Giroud after having an entire preseason under his belt.
However, Giroud is the more tested, experienced and talented option. Sanogo has also never scored a goal in competitive play.
Though Arsene Wenger has trusted the younger Frenchman in much bigger matches (in an elimination tie against Bayern Munich, for example), he is more likely to go with the mostly fit Giroud.