Saturday, 21 April 2018

Arsenal Vs West Ham United: Predicted starting XI — Au revoir Arsene

5 May 2001: Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal celebrates as Arsenal qualify for next years champions league during the match between Arsenal and Leeds United in the FA Carling Premiership at Highbury,London. Mandatory Credit: Mike Hewitt/ALLSPORT

Arsenal host West Ham United on Sunday afternoon as they begin to say goodbye to Arsene Wenger. Here is the Gunners’ predicted starting XI.

It will be the first time that Arsenal play knowing that Arsene Wenger will not be their manager for much longer. It is sure to be an odd occasion when West Ham United come to north London on Sunday afternoon. And with the crucial first leg against Atletico Madrid just four days away, there is a peculiar context in which a relatively meaningless game will be played.

And so, here goes a very ambitious and wholly futile predicted starting XI.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND – APRIL 15: Matt Ritchie of Newcastle United scores his sides second goal past Petr Cech of Arsenal while being challenged by Rob Holding of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St. James Park on April 15, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Goalkeeper

Perhaps the only position that I relatively confident with: Petr Cech will start.

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 01: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal in action during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on April 1, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Defence

And so the guessing begins. Wenger hinted that he would play a stronger team in this game than he has in recent weeks because he wants to give his Europa League some minutes to play with one another. But such comments come with a tension: Rest is important and Wenger has been keen to rest many of his star players in almost all of the recent Premier League games.

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Therefore, I believe the back four that Wenger will go with is a mix of both. Hector Bellerin at right-back; Calum Chambers andShkodran Mustafi at centre-half; Nacho Monreal at left-back. Other than Laurent Koscielny, it is the starting back four that he will most likely go with against Atletico on Thursday night.

The Frenchman, and his ailing Achilles, has been rested a lot in these latter weeks of the season. That is not particularly surprising and is actually extremely sensible. It should happen again here. But I do believe that Wenger will be wanting to play his other starters, and with no fitness concerns about any, he should be able to do so.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND – APRIL 15: Paul Dummett of Newcastle United and Alex Iwobi of Arsenal battle for possession during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St. James Park on April 15, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Midfield

Both Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are doubts after missing most of the week with slight niggling injuries. Because of that, I don’t think that Wenger will want to risk either.

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That leaves his options somewhat limited. The primary question for me is whether he will want to play Mesut Ozil or not. The German certainly has the fitness to be quite okay for midweek. But will Wenger want to protect his most important player and most valuable asset?

I think he will, with little reason to actually believe that. If so, that will see Alex Iwobishift into a central position, a position that I believe is his best — I also believe that Wenger would like to give him as many minutes in that position also.

In the two deeper roles, the only question is who joins Mohamed Elneny, an everpresent figure since the Europa League has taken priority. Last week it was Joe Willock. The week prior it was Granit Xhaka. I expect that it will be the latter, but that is as much a guess as anything else.

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 08: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on April 8, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Front Three

Wenger hinted that he wouldn’t play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this weekend so as to better prepare those who can play in the Europa League. I think that he will actually ignore that urge and start the Gabon international, but on the left and not in his best-suited centre-forward position.

That is because I think that Alexandre Lacazette will start again. Last week, the pair started a game together for the first time. Wenger seems keen to prove that they have the ability to do so. I believe that he will want to do the same again here.

Joining them, however, will not be Reiss Nelson or Joe Willock or even Eddie Nketiah. Because of the Europa League, I expect Danny Welbeck to start on the right flank, the attacker being given some minutes to preserve his sharpness with Henrikh Mkhitaryan unlikely ready to start.

But, in all honesty, this is a guess. This isn’t really a predicted starting XI. I have absolutely no idea what Wenger will do. That makes it all quite exciting, really.

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