Arsenal vs. Marseille Preview: Van Persie, Gervinho, and Walcott Must Not Start
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As Arsenal prepare to welcome Olympique Marseille to the Emirates tonight, they might consider adopting "Life is a Rollercoaster" by Ronan Keating as the club's new anthem.
Not that I am into boy bands (quite the opposite, actually), but no line better describes what the Gunners and their fans have been through these past few months. On second thought, make that the past few seasons.
Less than a month ago, Arsenal had seven points from seven Premier League games (with a goal difference of minus six), and there was doom and gloom in the red half of north London. Fast forward 30 days, and the Gunners find themselves sitting atop their Champions League group, just seven points off second place in the Premier League and in the quarterfinals of the Carling Cup.
Despite their recent run of success,I have the audacity to suggest that they rest some of their best players for a Champions League game!
Arsene Wenger suggested at his pre-game press conference that he was tempted to "stick with the same side" that dismantled Chelsea at the weekend. Victory over Marseille would guarantee Arsenal qualification for the knock-out stages. It is vitally important that the team keeps up their winning momentum.
Then why, I hear you ask, are we fixing it if it's not broke?
It's a long, hard season
Early in the season, while everyone is fit and fresh, it is tempting to play your best 11 in every game. However, it is worth noting that Arsenal have another 40 to 50 games to be played this campaign.
It is vital that when they're facing "cup finals" every three days in February, March and April, we don't have Squillaci, Chamakh, Fabianski, Djourou and Yennaris together in the same starting lineup. That last sentence was the theme for a nightmare, wasn't it?
Should Arsene Wenger rotate his squad vs Marseille tonight?
It is even more crucial that our best players are not merely available at that time, but are also fresh. By all accounts it is prudent to save up for a rainy day (pun intended) and rotate the squad now.
Arsenal players don't dig the onset of winter
I was looking at Arsenal's results in November and December over the past five seasons, and the results reveal that while they have won roughly 56 percent of our games, it is a period when Arsenal have lost players to injury (Robin van Persie immediately springs to mind) and lost some crucial, season-defining games—Shakhtar and Braga last year, Chelsea and Manchester City the year before.
It is therefore essential that as both the weather and the pitches turn nasty, Arsenal does not over-exert their best players. There is also the scary prospect of yet another international break looming, and I shall hold my breath, say no more and pray in silence for the well-being of van Persie and Theo Walcott.
It's a team game and everyone must step up
I may not be completely accurate, but I think it is safe to say that Van Persie, Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho have been involved in 25 of the 31 goals Arsenal have scored this season in all competitions.
While I love the fact that these players are on varying degrees of fire, it is always a worry that Arsenal may begin to depend on them too much, especially since two of these four are injury-prone.
It is important that players like Andrey Arshavin, Ju Young Park, Yossi Benayoun, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikel Arteta and even Marouane Chamakh step up in terms of tangible output. And by this I mean goals and assists.
On the defensive end, it will only help if youngsters like Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel get some game time against quality opposition.
When it comes to fringe players, more than the goals, assists and clean sheets, what is of paramount importance is that they are not kept out in the cold for too long. They need to be involved on the field, they need rhythm and confidence. Most importantly, they need match practice. Squad rotation, therefore, becomes crucial.
So what do we expect against Marseille?
My belief is that in spite of what Wenger has told the press, he will indeed rotate the squad tonight. This will certainly not be a Carling Cup team, as it is essential that we win, but some of our regular starters will definitely stay on the bench.
So as I gaze into my crystal ball, here's how I see Arsenal lining up:
Starting XI: Wojciech Szczesny; Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Andre Santos; Alex Song, Mikel Arteta; Yossi Benayoun, Andrey Arshavin, Gervinho; Ju Young Park
Subs: Lukasz Fabianski, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Robin van Persie
While there may appear to be some arrogance in such a selection, I have no problem with it. I believe that at home, it is a strong enough squad to win comfortably. Gotta love that bench strength!
Eight wins out of nine is great, but nine out of ten sounds so much better.
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