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Too Many Cooks: Arsene's Selection Dilemma

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Having a mostly-healthy team is great! But who gets to play?

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Did everyone hear? Arsenal are 96.4286% healthy! No matter when you began following the Gunners, I guarantee that's the healthiest the first team has been in your fandom. This Halley's Comet-esque scenario leaves Arsene with a problem he's never really had before: whom out of this plethora of healthy, talented players makes the 18-man match day squad? Today, we'll try to pick the manager's brain to predict which of the recently healthy first-teamers will be reinserted into the Arsenal side.

JACK WILSHERE

Let's tackle the most controversial player first, shall we? Even Jack's harshest critics do not deny his talent. It is also inarguable that Wenger has a soft spot in his heart, and a rock solid spot in the squad for the young Englishman when he's healthy. That was made abundantly clear earlier in the season, when Arsene attempted to fit a circular peg (Jack) into a 4-1-4-1 parallelogram hole.

If you are a fan of Jack's, it is still pretty hard to dispute the fact that the squad is performing well right now, particularly in central midfield. Santi Cazorla has been a revelation in a deeper role. There is no word in the English language that adequately describes Francis Coquelin's rise to prominence. (Maybe German has a word that combines disbelief, surprise, slowly dying skepticism due to an ever-increasing sample size of success, and pessimism due to the certainty that this really cannot be happening and that we have all, collectively, imagined this 2015 version of Coquelin.) Mesut Özil has been played centrally since his return from injury and has been spectacular. Aaron Ramsey has been very important since he recovered and even he was shunted out to the right flank this weekend. Even if Jack had dominated the early parts of the season, it would be hard for him to break through past these performers.

I believe Jack will make the substitute's bench, but it is very hard to see him starting again this season barring multiple injuries. We only have one remaining midweek match, meaning Wenger will not need to rotate his top XI. That Wednesday Sunderland match might be Jack's best (only?) chance to start again for Arsenal this season. That said, Arsene has surprised many with how he's stuck with Jack and forced him into the lineup in situations which seem to hurt the team overall. It's not out of the question he does the same again now. If Jack does feature, I hope he plays on the right wing, like Ramsey did against Liverpool. That would leave our in-form central midfield in place and allow him to play in a position where he's been more effective in recent years.

The TL;DR Prediction: Makes the bench, likely does not make the XI the rest of the season.

MIKEL ARTETA

This is the most interesting of the debates to me. Arteta has consistently been one of Arsenal's top performers since his arrival in North London. While he may not have the "steel" or the finger-pointing frequency required for a defensive midfielder by many fans, Arsenal have been a markedly better team with him in the XI over the past few years. His positioning, passing, and leadership have been integral to whatever recent success we've had (read: staying in the top 4 these past few years).

That said, it is also becoming increasingly tough to argue against the presence of Coquelin in the XI. His disruptive force in midfield has been key over the past couple of months. Arsenal have found success playing in a much different way than in seasons past. In previous years, a healthy Arsenal would feature Arteta in a DLP/DM role paired with Ramsey, a box-to-box midfielder. The former broke up attacks with good positioning and controlled the tempo of Arsenal's attack with his ability to recycle possession and spread the ball around the pitch. The latter would use his non-stop motor to run for 90 minutes, pressing opponents higher up the pitch and making late runs into the box.

In its current iteration, you can strip the "DLP" out of there because Coquelin is an old fashioned defensive midfielder. His mobility allows him to patrol a wider zone than Arteta ever could. Instead of smartly positioning himself to cut off a dribble or a pass, Coquelin rushes to whoever is within striking distance. There are pros and cons to that approach, but it is hard to look at his tackling and interception stats, as well as Arsenal's team defensive record with him in the side, and say it is not working. His passing leaves much to desire, and as such, Arsenal have ceded more possession to the opposition. Santi has made the box-to-box role his own and mimics some of what Arteta used to do with his passing ability, providing more positional stability than Ramsey typically displays.

On one hand, Arteta is our club captain and a key cog in any stretches of good form we've had in recent years. On the other hand, reintegrating him into the XI would completely change the playing style which has us sitting second in the table right now. So, even though this will go against something I'll say in the next section...

Verdict: Makes the bench, not the XI.

MATHIEU DEBUCHY

Unlike the previous two players, Arsenal fans have seen relatively little of Mathieu Debuchy. The £10 million replacement for Bacary Sagna has only started 10 league matches, thanks to two unfortunate injuries. The sample size with which to accurately judge him is even smaller, considering the amount of time it took Arsene to balance the side to correct for Debuchy's propensity for attack (after years of the less adventurous Sagna holding the right back slot down) and his stint as a centerback due to injury. What we do know about Debuchy is that he is very good at attack but can get caught a bit too far upfield. He's solid as a 1v1 defender and, when in position, reads the game well. He is also very good aerially.

The only reason Debuchy is not waltzing back into the XI, according to many, is the strong play of young Hector Bellerin. Everyone knows that this site is a strong supporter of #HectorFC. In my first ever piece for this site, I predicted he would have a great shot of breaking through this season. Despite my love for him as a prospect, it was impossible to predict the success and level of playing time he has had this season.

That said, Bellerin still has some flaws. He's already the most talented attacking right back Arsenal have had in many years, but his defense still leaves something to desire. The Liverpool match was a microcosm of his season: beautiful attacking play mixed with dangerous moments defending. He also still struggles with stronger opponents due to his slight stature. He clearly has improved this season with more playing time, but still struggles with bouts of inconsistency, as young players are wont to do.

For those reasons, I strongly believe Debuchy will slide back into the first XI once he is fully fit. Wenger has typically given his experienced, established starters their spots back after long-term injuries and I do not see that changing here. I am not sure that Bellerin has done quite enough to unseat the Premier League-tested, starting right back for the French National Team. Especially with matches against Chelsea and Manchester United looming, I think Wenger will opt for the more secure defensive presence of Debuchy for the majority of the rest of the season.

Verdict: XI, with the potential for Bellerin to get a game or two here and there.

ABOU DIABY

LANS, amirite?

In all seriousness, there's no way Diaby makes the squad unless we suffer a number of injuries. Hopefully he'll continue to get his match feet under him at the U-21 level. If he can do that, continue to train with the first team, and stay healthy, he'll have a much better chance of landing on his feet this summer. An Arsenal extension seems highly unlikely, but perhaps Arsene could be tempted depending on what the Frenchman shows this next month and a half. Diaby deserves all the success in the world after what he's dealt with. After all this, I would not begrudge Arsene if he decided to give Abou one last chance.

Verdict: Won't even make the bench. Likely to play with the U-21s.

SERGE GNABRY

Serge is another player whose season has been scuttled due to injuries. After some bright cameos last season, I really thought he could cement his place in the first-team squad this year. The opportunities were there for him to do so, but he wasn't. With guys like Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, and Tomas Rosicky on the bench this weekend, it is hard to see where he fits in. Like Diaby, he will likely have to be content with just trying to stay healthy and getting match action with the U-21s.

Verdict: Won't even make the bench. Likely to play with the U-21s.