Well, it’s late February…and that means it is time for a cup final, apparently. Arsenal and Manchester City will make their way to Wembley and battle it out for the first available piece of silverware this season. Although this competition doesn’t get a lot of respect, it is still a trophy. On top of being a trophy, it is one that Arsenal have not won during my time here on Earth. This final is not something that Arsenal should take lightly. So, we will take a look at the team Wenger might put out, and how to break down this City team.
The Starting XI
There has been some debate among fans on how the team should line up at the back. Arsenal have been playing with a back four recently, and that has yielded inconsistent results, at best. It would be wise to start with three central defenders and two wing-backs, like at the beginning of this season. At RWB, Hector Bellerin will obviously start (despite how you feel about the recording…or fake recording?…or something). I would have Mustafi, Koscielny, and Monreal in the central positions, and I would throw Kolasinac out at left wing-back.
I feel the need to defend the Kolasinac selection, so I suppose I will. If Arsene decides to deploy wing-backs then out left is the choice between Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac. I have been impressed by Maitland-Niles this year, but I am not convinced that LWB is his best position…or that he is even interested in playing that position. Kolasinac, on the other hand is a purebred left wing-back and provides strength, and an extra bite to the attack. Can he be a liability on defense, yes, which is why we have the back three!
The midfield can be a bit tricky. Arsene hasn’t managed to find a central partnership that sufficiently replaces the Cazorla-Coquelin duo from a few seasons back. My heart wants me to include Jack Wilshere in this team, but I think he would be best off the bench for this match. So, the best option that would provide balance is the duo of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny. They can both provide some defensive coverage for Bellerin and Kolasinac, and break up the City midfield. Leaving Wilshere on the bench to replace one of them is a great way to change the midfield dynamic and add some punch to the attack that City would need to adjust for.
The two attacking midfield positions would go to Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey. Mkhitaryan is cup tied unfortunately, so this leaves him out of contention. If that weren’t the case than I might be calling for a Ramsey-Xhaka partnership with Mkhitaryan playing in a more advanced role. Since, that is not the world that we live in, I feel that Ramsey and Ozil will provide plenty of attacking chances, while being able to stabilize the entire midfield.
Aubameyang will obviously be starting up top, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is unfortunate that Arsene isn’t able to experiment with a Lacazette-Aubameyang striking partnership due to the Frenchman’s injury, but I would rather have Aubameyang available than Lacazette, so all is well for this match.
I suppose I should’ve mentioned which goalkeeper I would select, but this isn’t difficult for me. It’s Petr Cech. Does Cech need to be replaced? Yes. Is Cech too old? Yes. Does Cech frustrate me to no end? Yes. Do I cry every night thinking of Szczesny? No, but will have a cigarette in the shower if I’m sad. Look, I know Cech needs to go, but it’s simple…Ospina is not the answer, and he never will be. That’s why I didn’t even mention it, I don’t think there is a real debate at the moment.
Dealing With City
A few months back I wrote a piece on how to deal with City, you can read that here if you’d like, but I’ll be giving a more general overview of it right here. Despite how great City have been throughout this season, they do have slight weaknesses. They were just knocked out of the FA Cup, so it is possible to take this team down. Look at these two goals to see what the have in common…
The answer, I’m looking for is “Otamendi”. The first mistake is a beautiful assist for the opposing team. In the second goal he gets so drawn out that he literally 6 yards away from his man as the ball finds its way to the back of the net. He is the weak link that is consistently present in this City team.
The best way to attack this City team is down our right flank. The speed of Bellerin and Aubameyang should overwhelm whoever Pep chooses to replace the suspended Fabian Delph. Attacking down either flank is really the way to go. Going down the left would be ideal whenever Kyle Walker decides to leave Laporte alone with Otamendi. City have not been able to find a CB pairing that feels ideal for them…and it has resulted in instability to the entire back four.
Attacking down the sides also keeps the ball out of the middle of the pitch, meaning it keeps the ball away from Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva…which we very much want to do.
This final is undoubtedly a steep mountain to climb. But Arsenal have done well in cups recently. Beating City in the FA Cup semi final last year, then Chelsea in the final. They also won Community Shield before the season started. Wembley has been relatively kind to Arsenal. It has been a welcome consistency in a time where Arsenal are at their most inconsistent. I have faith in Arsenal’s ability to beat anyone on their day, and at Wembley, it’s “their day” more often than not.
So, in summary…back three, attack wide, expose Otamendi. COYG.