UEFA Champions League: Arsenal face “testing” times

Blog by: KC

Arsene Wenger: Problems with squad depth persists

Arsene Wenger: Problems with squad depth persists

After a disastrous start to the season, which was more to do with bad refereeing rather than a bad performance from the players, Arsenal has gone on a winning run, culminating in the win against Sunderland that saw the debut of marquee signing Mesut Ozil.

Arsene Wenger, after facing years of criticism about not spending money to buy superstars, certainly pulled one out of the hat when he brought in Ozil from Real Madrid. The buzz around the signing was at an all-time high, with many on the Social Media calling it Wenger’s own “Bergkamp moment”. But there was certainly a chance that all the excitement around the signing would have turned sour if the win against Sunderland wasn’t secured.

As some bloggers noted, it is not just Ozil or Wenger that needs to be praised or be excited about. The response from the players after the defeat against Aston Villa has been fantastic, with 5 wins on the trot, including 2 tricky Champions League fixtures as well as the North London Derby.

That win against Fenerbahce was important to secure Champions League for another season, and perhaps was pivotal in getting the signature of Ozil. But now begins the hard work as Arsenal are in what is essentially the group of death, with Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Marseille to go through to reach the knockout rounds.

And the first of these encounters is away to Marseille on Wednesday, and the importance of a successful start to the campaign cannot be stressed enough. If points are dropped in the first match itself, then the pressure would be on Arsenal throughout the group stages and with games coming thick fast in the Premier League, as well as the Capital One cup, that is a headache that Arsene Wenger and the fans can do without.

While Marseille is no pushover, one has to say that of the 3 opponents that Arsenal has in the group, they are the ones off which maximum points can be taken from. While home wins can be expected against Dortmund and Napoli, the chances of securing an away win against them would be a tad difficult, though not impossible.

Therefore, it becomes doubly important that all 6 points are taken from the matches against Marseille. But with the situation the squad is in, it is easier said than done.

As of Monday, the injury list in the squad includes such important players such as Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski. Arsene Wenger revealed that Mesut Ozil could be in doubt for the game as well. Recall that Ozil would not have played against Sunderland because of illness, but Cazorla’s untimely injury meant Wenger was forced to start him. It looks the illness has persisted, and added to that is a case of tight muscles which could force Wenger to at least bench him, if not completely leave him behind. Nobody wants to see Ozil unnecessarily injured for any length of time and the manager can certainly trust the players he has available to get the job done.

Will Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud start against Marseilles

Will Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud start against Marseille?

On the positive end of things, Per Mertesacker has been declared fit and the game against Sunderland saw a run-out for Thomas Vermaelen, so he should be match fit too, if necessary. More importantly, the defence has good cover now, and the partnership between Koscielny and Mertesacker can be rekindled, along with Sagna being reinstated at right-back, which is the best combination for the team, in terms of balance as well as form.

All Arsenal fans had a heart-in-mouth moment when Olivier Giroud started limping towards the end of the Sunderland game, considering he was the only recognised central striker in the squad (this, of course, not counting the likes of Park and Bendtner, who frankly, at least for this match, would not be of much use). And then, everybody heaved a huge sigh of relief when Giroud took to Twitter to assure everyone that he was fine. However, all is not yet well as Wenger announced that he will have a late fitness test to determine his availability.

In the event Giroud becomes unavailable for Wednesday’s game, it throws a spanner in the works for Arsenal. There is the option to use Park, but it is highly unlikely that Arsene Wenger would turn to a player whom he hasn’t trusted since he signed, especially for such an important game as this.

Therefore, the only other option that Wenger has is to play Walcott in the middle, an opportunity Theo would relish. But that leaves a problem on the wings for Arsenal. If we assume Ozil does not play on Wednesday, then the possible midfield trio would be Wilshere, Flamini and Ramsey, who pick themselves automatically.

While Miyaichi can play on the left wing, it would be a big gamble that Wenger will be forced to take, considering that he has no other viable options. And that still leaves a problem on the right wing, with no obvious cover. Of course, if Ozil is declared fit to play, then Ramsey can be pushed to the right, even though it’s not his best position. But if Ozil is not going to take part, then perhaps Frimpong can be started in the defensive midfield, allowing Ramsey to still play on the right.

Of course, the other option is to play either Chuba Akpom or Serge Gnabry as the central striker and let Walcott and Miyaichi play on the wings. But the chances of that happening are next to none. This, after all, is not the Mickey Mouse cup!

So, for everyone’s sanity to be maintained, one can only hope that Giroud passes the fitness test, allowing him to retain his position in the team, and letting Walcott stay on the right. I wouldn’t be overly concerned with Ozil not starting, as he would be needed for the complete season and there is no need to take any risks.

While the permutations and combinations may be too much for us to speculate, it is safe to say that the gaffer revels in it! All eyes will be on the team sheet tomorrow, with many fingers crossed throughout the game.

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