The 2014-15 season has come to a close in strong fashion for Arsenal as we ran riot against West Brom in a 4-1 win. Theo Walcott got a confidence boosting hat trick and Jack Wilshere scored a thumping goal as we shook the cobwebs loose as we prepare to defend our FA Cup glory for another year. A clash at Wembley against Aston Villa will give us a chance to win a trophy in two successive seasons.
Prior to the West Brom match, Arsenal were not as effective going forward and we looked sluggish as we managed a few unconvincing draws that caused us to lose grip on second place and slip unceremoniously to third place. It was incredibly frustrating to watch as we generated chances but poor finishing would see us miss the chance to take home three points. Our players looked tired and every touch, pass and shot expressed this. Wenger rarely changed his squad but against West Brom he did make a few changes and it was because of these changes that we were able to get the win.
Wenger sent in Walcott in place of Giroud and Wilshere in place of Ramsey. In my last post I talked about Walcott's place in the squad and my conclusion was that he doesn't have a place in the starting XI week in and week out but could still serve a purpose from the bench. He is at an age where he will be looking for regular football and I don't think he will get that at Arsenal. In the West Brom match he showed what he is capable of as a squad player when you must rest other starters. His movement was good and he had shooting boots on, which is something that we have been lacking recently. It was the kind of match that he needed in order to give Wenger something to think about for the cup final and for the coming season as we enter the transfer market. Walcott was helped by a lackadaisical West Brom side that showed up in body only but their heads weren't in the game. That suited us just fine as we dominated from start to finish. They showed a little life in the second half but 4-0 at halftime, it would have been a long shot for them to get even an equalizer.
Wilshere, Ox and Gabriel also got minutes as Wenger continued his rotation in preparation for the cup final. Wilshere was his usual tenacious self and showed why Wenger rates him highly. He loves taking on players and taking a shot when others would look for a pass. He too was assisted by the weak West Brom outfit but it will do wonders for his confidence. Gabriel was effective replacing Koscielny as was Gibbs who was in for Monreal. It was clear that Wenger was resting as many players as possible. While this was the case, I think it showed how necessary it is for a manager to rotate his squad and keep players fresh. We played the same squad for so many matches it was predictable to play against. Throwing a few new players into the mix really gives the opposition something to think about. West Brom were not able to handle the rotated players because it added a different dimension to our game. Now if we continued with that lineup for a few more matches than a new rotation would be needed. Wenger has built a squad with many talented players who can play multiple roles (except Coquelin, we still defensive mid backup) it is ridiculous for us to continue with the same line up every week when we have the ability to change it up. Of course this is all something to ponder for next season as we are out of matches.
It does bring up the question as to who plays Villa in the final. I think Wenger will stick with the same players he played the majority of the season. Giroud will start up top, even though Walcott had a great game, Giroud is our main striker and barring an injury, he will start. If Welbeck were fit I think he would have a chance to start as well but this is not the case. Alexis will continue to hold his place and Ramsey will play out to the right. Ozil in the center attacking mid spot ahead of Coquelin and Cazorla. Pretty standard setup for us and one that is predictable which is why I think attacking subs will be critical for us to see out this match. Walcott, Ox and Wilshere will need to be prepared to play like they did Sunday. In defense we will see Monreal start with Koscielny and Mertesacker. Bellerin will retain his place at RB as well. Just like last season the goaltender will be up in the air. Opsina or Szczesny? That is the question.
My gut says Szczesny will get the start, of course is said that last season and Fabianski started so I will probably get this wrong too. Ospina has taken the league matches away from the Pole and that makes Szczesny the cup keeper. On top of that Szczesny didn't get to play last season in the win so I think Wenger will start him even if it may be a little risky playing a keeper who hasn't started a match in a month. Since this is the second year in a row we have had this dilemma with our keepers and given our poor track record of consistency in the keeper position, it is clear that this summer we need to sort out our starting keeper even it means getting a new one to replace one of the two we have. I plan on looking closer at the numbers between Ospina and Szczesny to see who is the better option but for now lets all just hope Wenger makes the right decision and our keeper doesn't us a trophy.
The pub will be packed on Sunday as the Queen City Gooners will be in full voice showing why Arsenal has the strongest support in the US.
Come on you Gunners!