Arsenal host Fulham in the Premier League on Sunday and, as ever, Mikel Arteta has an interesting team selection ahead of him after a stirring 4-0 win over Slavia Prague. Here is the predicted lineup.
Speaking ahead of their Europa League triumph at the Sinobo Stadium in the quarter-finals, Arteta stressed the need for consistency in his backline. Having chopped and changed his central defensive pairings as well as alternating between three different right-backs this season, selecting a regular back four has been troublesome.
Injuries haven’t helped, but he stuck to his guns against Slavia Prague and the result was a second consecutive clean sheet.
So, does he stick with it? Facing a Cottagers side staring down the barrel of Premier League relegation, the opportunity is there for Arteta to cement a defensive line for the remainder of the campaign, one potentially featuring Granit Xhaka at left-back again.
Arsenal predicted lineup vs Fulham: Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka to stay in the team or Gabriel Martinelli to return?
Arsenal have four full days of recovery following Sunday ahead of another home fixture with Everton, thus the manager will toy with the idea of giving others a chance in the side or building a foundation.
The same applies to the forward line where both Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe excelled on the flanks and Emile Smith Rowe dazzled in the centre. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is unlikely to recover from malaria, but could Gabriel Martinelli and/or Willian be introduced to keep legs fresh?
Off the back of signing a new contract, there is also scope for an appearance on the bench for Folarin Balogun, as Arteta balances keeping Eddie Nketiah in the public eye with integrating Balogun into the first team fold.
What will he do? Play a winning team or introduce fresh legs? Here is our prediction for Arteta’s Arsenal lineup.
Goalkeeper & Defenders
Bernd Leno (GK) – It would be nice to see Maty Ryan given another opportunity in between the sticks on Sunday. He’s played just once due to Leno’s suspension and performed well, and while it appears Arsenal will keep him on next season, it’d be nice to see that decision brought to life on the pitch. Probably won’t happen, though.
Hector Bellerin (RB) – All that talk about finding consistency in the defence? Yeah, given it’s Fulham on home soil it’s likely to be a change in both full-back positions. A visiting outfit who need to attack Arsenal will leave gaps, and against a fast full-back you want the same in your team.
Rob Holding (CB) – If he was a left-sided central defender he would probably get a rest but considering he’s the only fit option for the right he will keep his place. By no means excellent he still provided solidity alongside the right partner and has looked solid since coming back into the side.
Gabriel (CB) – The same partnership that started on the opening day should be the one Arteta goes with on Sunday. Gabriel, it would appear, has lost his place in the team to Pablo Mari as the Spaniard is the best partner to Holding – the only option on that side – which indicates a return to action for the Brazilian here.
Cedric Soares (LB) – There will be a systematic alteration for Arsenal from the previous two outings with the return of Cedric expected to maintain freshness within the side. He’s not everyone’s favourite option but he does his job well enough.