Wenger can rotate in a game Arsenal can win

Posted by Andrew Mangan

While there can be no question over how seriously Arsenal will approach Wednesday night's game against Napoli, there may be room to consider how they can keep their squad fresh for a game they don't have to win to qualify for the round of 16.

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Of course they'll want to win and finish at the top of the group, ostensibly allowing for an easier draw. But in the 2011-12 season, a top-placed finish saw them draw AC Milan, finishing second last season, and in the 2010-11 campaign, it left them facing eventual winners in Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

Chances are that finishing top will provide them with an easier opponent in the first knockout round, but Arsene Wenger has to balance that with the need to keep his squad as fresh as possible for the weekend's trip to face Manchester City.

There can be no altering the spine. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, centre-halves Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny and striker Olivier Giroud must start. They've been fundamental to the team's progress this season and are a crucial part of the way the team plays.

However, what's interesting about this current Arsenal squad is that it's possible to make changes outside of that without diminishing the quality of the team. Theo Walcott is due a start and is the most natural option for the right side of the Gunners' attack. In recent weeks, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey have been deployed there, often to good effect, but in a game that Napoli must win to have any chance of qualifying, Walcott's pace could be a devastating counterattacking weapon for Wenger.

Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta, despite their differing styles of play, are almost interchangeable in the holding midfield role. Statistically, there's very little between them. The combative Frenchman passes it just as well as the Spaniard, while Arteta's tackling isn't as in-your-face as his colleague's, but it is equally effective.

Wenger has the experience of Tomas Rosicky to bring into midfield. It looked, during Sunday's 1-1 draw with Everton, as though the season was beginning to catch up with Ramsey. Although usually deployed in a more forward role than the Welshman, Rosicky can also play further back; his energy and love for a tackle make him more than capable of filling in.

At left back there's so little to choose between Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs. The Spanish international might even feel aggrieved that he was back on the bench against Everton after a storming performance against Hull, but if he were to come into the team Wednesday night, it would be as safe a change as Wenger could make.

What's most positive about the ability to do this is that if things don't quite go to plan, there's enough quality on the bench to turn things around if need be. Imagine a Napoli side looking at the likes of Ramsey, Arteta and perhaps even a fit-again Lukas Podolski coming on. It's a far cry from days not so long ago when the bench looked insipid and distinctly nonthreatening.

The Italian team's need to go for it should also suit Arsenal. They're expert and ruthless counterattackers this season, and with Napoli's need for goals (they have to get a better result against Arsenal than Dortmund can achieve at already-eliminated Marseille), there's bound to be space for Arsenal to exploit.

Do that half as well as they have already this season, and Wenger's men should come through this one, regardless of any possible changes.


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