Are They Gunner Do It? Predicting Arsenal's Strongest Starting XI for 2011
Arsenal have entered 2011 in stellar fashion despite some embarrassing slip ups. The North London giants sit third in the English Premier League table with 40 points, only four points of leaders Manchester United. The Gunners are still in the title race alongside reaching the Carling Cup semi final where they encounter Championship side Ipswich Town in the coming days.
Arsene Wenger's men have also advanced to the last 16 of Europes most prestigious club competition, the UEFA Champions League, as well as still fighting alive in the FA Cup. To cap it all off, for the first time in numerous seasons, Arsenal have enjoyed a relatively fit roster for the first half of 2010/2011. Albeit injuries have still occurred at the Emirates but not as severe or as much then in recent years.
So as Arsenal's quest to break their notorious five year title drought becomes more and more realistic, the Gunners must maintain consistency and momentum. With a virtually fully fit roster, Wenger must establish his strongest starting XI to ensure the Gunners can finally boast and brag the sweet success of silverware.
In Arsenal most recent encounters with top four teams, the Gunners have faced Chelsea and Manchester City. Both games have been defying moments in the EPL season. Wenger's men were far to superior for Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea, the reigning Champions could not compete with the flowing 4-2-3-1 formation and potent attack of Arsenal.
Against Big Spenders City, the Gunners completely outplayed the Eastlands club but failed to capitalize on numerous chances and could only muster a depleting 0-0 draw. Both line ups looked to be Arsenal strongest bar the absence of defesive leader Thomas Vermaelen, who has not featured in the first team since August due to a persistent Achilles injury. However the Belgium has returned to training and should feature by months end.
So what is Arsenal's strongest XI?
Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski
The recent Summer was dominated by headlines over Cesc Fabregas's future and whether not the Spaniard would depart the Gunners to join boyhood club Barcelona. However the rumours were also heavily towards whether or not Arsene Wenger would secure the services of a quality keeper to diminish his goalkeeping conundrum.
Since the departure of Jens Lehman in 2008, the Gunners have lacked a quality presence in between the goal posts and many felt it was the main instigator in Arsenal's lack of silverware. Manuel Almunia had tried and failed as the No. 1 keeper. Despite showing signs of a talented keepers, the 31 year old merely wasn't meant to be a first-choice keeper at a club like Arsenal.
Lukasz Fabianski on the other hand was still young but since his arrival in 2007, until now, fans and critics alike had no real clue to why Wenger showed so much faith in the Polish shot stopper. The 25-year-old showed potential and was blessed with a long dive and quick reflexes.
However the former Legia Warsaw keeper was a ticking time bomb in goal. In crucial matches errors were always made, simple, weak shots predominantly got the better of the Polish international. Acquiring the nick name "Flappyianski" for the way the young gun often flapped at high balls, as well as the nickname "Vampire" because of his fear of crosses.
But those renditions have changed to the point few look back on his error filled past. When Manuel Almunia suffered a persistent ankle injury in September, Lukasz Fabianski stepped up to the plate and fans began their usual thoughts of "here we go again."
Fortunately it was not the case, with every game the Polish keeper has gone from strength to strength, defying the odds, proving he is the keeper Wenger sees. Fabianski is providing a reliable, strong presence in between the posts and granted no errors occur, the Polish shot stopper should remain as the clubs number one.
However boom youngster Wojciech Szczensy is destined to be the next permanent number one and Wenger holds the 20 year old in the highest regard. Fabianski will have to be on his toes to maintain his spot.
Right Back: Bacary Sagna
Arsene Wenger has always deployed a four man defensive line which enables the wider left and right defenders to surge forward and act as almost extra wingers. Few could argue Bacary Sagna at right back. Since the Frenchman's arrival in 2007 from French giants Auxerre for €9 million, Sagna has been a consistent force on the right flank and is now considered one of World Football's most consistent and strongest right backs.
The French defender is not only a impressive defender, Sagna is a more than useful contributor in attack who is guilty of horrendous crossing, but does inject great pace and control into the right hand attack.
A regular for France too, fans will be hoping the 27 year old returns from a dubious three match suspension and continues to perform at the highest peak in both defence and attack.
Central Defence: Johan Djourou
The Arsenal central defence is seen as one of the main instigators to Arsenal's trophy demise. The main culprit has been Arsene Wenger, poor choices and poor purchasing has ensured the Gunners boast one of the worst central defences in England.
Signing the likes of Mikael Silvestre, Sebastien Squillaci and William Gallas, along with entrusting the latter with the captains armband and neglecting former Arsenal centre half Kolo Toure over Gallas have all played their part and become evident in Arsenal lacklustre central defence.
But fortunately, the Gunners finally look to have acquired suitable centre halves who have the potential to defend Arsenal to glory. Arguably Arsenal best defender of the season so far has been Johan Djourou. The imposing Swiss had risen to promise during the 2008/2009 and looked set to become a vital part of the Arsenal back line and a world class defender. However near the end of the 2008/2009 campaign, Djourou sustained a severe knee injury that saw the 23 year old miss the entire 2009/2010 season bar Arsenal's final Premier League game.
The Swiss international was also set to be an integral part of Switzerland's 2010 World Cup campaign but was deemed unfit to compete. However Djourou has returned and after regaining supreme fitness in the opening months, the former Birmingham loanee has returned to his former self and has begun to lead the Arsenal back line especially in Thomas Vermaelen's absence.
Blessed with an imposing commanding presence of 6ft4, Djourou possess impressive speed and strength as well as sublime ball control. If Arsenal are to succeed in 2011, one imagine Johan Djouro will play a vital role.
Central Defence: Laurent Koscienly
Arsenal's big summer signing was a little known French defender Laurent Koscienly, who arrived from French outfit Lorient FC for £8.45 million. It loomed as a typical Wenger signing, a little known Frenchman destined for big things.
Two seasons ago the 25 year old was playing in the French second division which prompted fans to take a sceptical approach to the French defender. Koscienly has not had the strongest start to his Arsenal career. Despite showing great promise, the Frenchman has been at fault for goals with poor positioning, control errors and lack of pace.
However Koscienly has begun to return to form and it's come off the back of the demotion of Sebastien Squillaci. Koscienly and Squillaci were the predominant centre half pairing due to Vermaelen's absence and Djourou's lack of fitness.
Squillaci has shown he is a struggling defender who fails to boast a beneficial partnership with Koscienly. Since Squillaci drop to the bench, Arsenal have looked better defensively and so has Laurent Koscienly. However Thomas Vermaelen is set to return soon in the coming weeks and fans will be eager for the Belgium to slip straight back into the Arsenal back line.
However it will take at least a month for Vermaelen to return to full fitness and regain his touch, strength and concentration. By then Laurent Koscienly should be fulfilling his potential.
Left Back: Gael Clichy
If English international Kieran Gibbs had not sustained numerous injuries this season, one might expect the youngster to be ahead of Gael Clichy as the first choice Arsenal left back. However Clichy endured a relatively slow start to 2010/2011 to emerge as a stronger, more consistent defender.
The Frenchman has been a constant presence in the Arsenal XI this season and his experience and leadership has and will prove to be invaluable for the young Arsenal squad. Granted that eventually the young Gibbs will overtake the French international, but for now Gael Clichy is the Arsenal left back.
Defensive Midfielder: Alexandre Song
Alexandre Song has continued his stellar form of 2009/2010 into 10/11 alongside instilling a more adventurous attacking side to this array of talent that World Football was yet to see. The Cameroon midfielder has kept his strong, defensive traits and continues to cut down and destroy opposition attacks as well as aiding his defenders.
However the 23 year old has taken to become a more attacking midfielder too which has seen Song acquire a career high five goals this season. Albeit the Cameroon internationals attacking escapades have resulted in the Gunners conceding goal from the counter attack but with the 4-2-3-1 formation that enables the Wenger to utilize two defensive midfielders, Song can also utilize his impressive attacking ability more too.
Defensive Midfielder: Jack Wilshere
After a highly successful loan spell at the latter end of last season, highly touted teenager Jack Wilshere has returned to the Gunners and has instilled his presence into the Arsenal XI, becoming one of the most consistent performers in the Arsenal starting side.
The 19 year old boasts 25 appearances in all competitions this season as well as two England international caps. The young gun has shown impressive maturity and strength as well as a phenomanal array of skill, creativity and a slight aggressive side.
Wilshere's form has kept experienced midfielders Tomas Rosicky and Denilson out of the Arsenal starting side and it's very clear, young Jack has a huge future.
Central Attacking Midfielder: Cesc Fabregas
The Arsenal captain has continued to perform at the highest level for the Gunners, orchestrating and control the potent Arsenal attack, despite sufferring some injury woes. The Spaniard has been at his attacking best in recent weeks as well as keeping an impressive scoring tally.
Regardless of the rumours the 23 year old has to face about his future, it's evident Fabregas has one thing in mind, win a trophy with Arsenal and the Arsenal faithful and Wenger pray Cesc Fabregas stays fit for the remainder of the season.
Right Wing: Theo Walcott
The English speedster started 2010/2011 with a bang, notching a hattrick in the opening rounds against a feeble Blackpool outfit. The 21 year old was quickly becoming the EPL's inform attacker before an injury sustained on international duty with England saw "Theo" miss two months of football.
However Walcott has returned as has found immense form that has brought goals and assists for the Premier League's quickest winger. The Englishman's form has seen Russian dynamo Andrei Arshavin drop to the bench and it's blatantly clear that Walcott is no longer an impact player of the bench. If Arsene Wenger wants the strongest possible line up, Theo Walcott must start.
Left Wing: Samir Nasri
Samir Nasri's shock uninclusion in France's World Cup squad looked to potential harm the Frenchman's confidence but it only enabled Nasri to receive a much needed rest over the Summer before returning stronger than ever for 2010/2011.
After a hugely impressive pre season, it became apparent the 23 year old was going to be utilized in a more central role after spending his first two seasons as more of a winger. After a minor thigh injury saw the former Marseille dynamo miss the opening month of football, Nasri returned in mid September and has since destroyed some of England's best defences.
There was no denying Nasri talent, it had been evident for a number of years but injuries and inconsistency had tainted his skill however now the French international has acquired consistency to his game and has now become one of the World's best players.
Nasri role in Arsenal success will arguably be the most important as the French star must maintain his current form and shine in the bigger games.
Striker: Robin Van Persie
Wenger has now taken to deploying just the one striker which has benefited the Gunners in recent seasons. With Arsenal boasting three world class strikers, it has become difficult to define who will be the lead sharp shooter, and few can deny it has to be Robin van Persie.
After sustaining an ankle injury in August, the Dutchman has returned and has regained his touch and skill. Van Persie is easily one of the most gifted strikers in World Football and if Arsenal are to succeed the 27 year old needs to start.
Blessed with creativity, flair, skill, a vicious left foot, superb strikes from corners and set pieces as well as great link up play with the likes of Nasri, Fabregas and Walcott, there's just no keeping Robin van Persie from the Arsenal starting XI.
There will be heavy competition to receive a spot on the Gunners bench especially as only three are utilized. However it is clear who can make the Arsenal bench.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczensy
The Polish young gun is still a few years from the top spot and with Manuel Almunia still nursing a persistent ankle injury as well as reports the Spaniard will depart in January. Alongside Italian shot stopper Vito Mannone on loan at Hull City, Szczensy will be the deputy keeper unless mass errors return to Fabianski.
Defender: Thomas Vermaelen
This could change granted the Belgim makes a speedy return to full fitness however until at least March it is hard to imagine Vermaelen breaking back into the Arsenal starting side.
Midfielders: Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby/Aaron Ramsey
Realistically there is only room for two midfielders on the Arsenal bench and Czech Tomas Rosicky boast to much creativity, skill, leadership and experience not to earn a spot on the Arsenal bench. The remaining place is a hot contest which if fit would have to go to Abou Diaby.
However the Frenchman's track record is not good with injury consistently occurring. Currently nursing an ankle injury, Diaby could find himself struggling to find playing time. Boom youngster Aaron Ramsey has finally returned from the horror leg break of last season and one can only imagine that eventually the Welshman will return to the Arsenal side.
Forwards: Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrei Arshavin
The trio are world class attackers who will be the used primarily off the bench but will undoubtedly feature heavily due to Arsenal large abundance of games. Chamakh and Bendtner will force van Persie to perform at his highest whilst Arshavin will be back up to Walcott.
Arsenal possess great depth this season which ensures a number of quality players are vying for playing time.
The Samba star has not had the most appealing season but as long as Denilson is not sold in January, the Brazilian will appear in handfuls for the remainder of the season, on a more consistent basis should injuries occur in the midfield.
The Ivorian will always be one of the World Football's best second choice right back as Eboue continues to deputize for Bacary Sagna
Similar to Eboue, Gibbs will continue to deputize for Gael Clichy but next season should be a different story.
When Thomas Vermaelen returns the Frenchman will be the fourth choice central defender but Squillaci will provide depth and leadership, particularly in the FA Cup.
So is this Arsenal strongest starting XI?