Is it me or does the Hull City cup match seem so far away now? On that evening Arsène's rotated team could have won more comfortably but did more than enough to secure our way through to the next round. Today Arsène has some new shiny toys to play with at long last. Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini and Mesut Özil all return to the Arsenal first team squad which gives us some much needed and much missed depth in midfield.
It's difficult to know where any of them are in terms of sharpness and match fitness so it is difficult to know how Arsène will approach the starting line up. It's great to have Özil back but we should be pleased to have Santi in such good form meaning we can ease the German back into things slowly. Therefore I fully expect Mesut to take his place on the bench and get on late in the second half, well assuming we are able to make that decision. I've missed that guy, missed the way he drifts into spaces in wide areas, drops his shoulder and bursts past someone before sliding an inch perfect pass into someone's path. He may have not started the season in top form but as usual he was creating more chances for others than anyone else in our team. How can you not miss that?
Without knowing Aaron Ramsey's condition I am guessing he will be brought back into the team. I guess we do not have many players who can play the same role that he does because all the other options are injured more or less.
What was most frustrating about Ramsey's injury was the timing. He had scored a few goals in a row and his confidence looked high. I mean come on, when you strike a left footed daisy cutter from 30 yards into the top corner you know your luck should be well and truly up. But that was it, Galatasaray away was Ramsey's last game before picking up his latest injury.
Arsène has a decision to make as to who plays alongside Aaron. Does he go for form or experience? Coquelin was so far down the pecking order that he was sent on loan to Charlton but since returning he has impressed the boss and has almost certainly looked more rounded than the more experienced Flamini. I would personally continue with Le Coq as his performances merit his place in the team but Arsène has a track record of sticking with experience when his teams are under pressure.
Oliver Giroud has completed his three match suspension and will come back into the team not only for freshness but also for set pieces. Welbeck is not yet ready for the first team which is a shame so I am guessing Oxlade-Chamberlain pushes Theo Walcott back to the bench unless the manager wants to get Walcott up to speed and to do that he needs to play games.
It is a little bit catch 22 when it comes to players returning after a long time out. They need to play games to get back to their best levels but when they start their come backs they are not at the level we require as Theo showed against Hull City in the cup last week. While Theo and Alexis give you two great attacking threats, it is hard not to look at the other side of the coin and wonder if the erratic side of their games will cause the rest of our game a few issues. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the most part has been very good for us this season. He has dipped in a few fixtures and his aim will definitely be consistency. With Alexis on the other side he gives the side extra balance with his ability to drift inside and help control the game, even if his passing is still not perhaps as high as it should be.
The rest of the team should be pretty straight forward. Tomas Rosicky is likely to be demoted back to the bench which would be a shame for the player as he has been in good form in the absence of so many. The Rosicky, Cazorla, Alexis trio appeared to be pretty inventive. So we'll see if and how that is replaced.
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up
Our home record against Stoke is exceptional. Have we won all of our games against them at home? I can't remember any dropped points. It's quite amazing when you consider the amount of times we've come unstuck at their place. I still find the advantages of home quite a strange concept. Obviously you like to be in your surroundings but ultimately the 22 players on the pitch should make all the difference. In this fixture that doesn't seem to be the case.
Our home record against this lot suggests that we have a good chance of picking up three points. If you believe in jinxing then apologies in advance.
Our bench should have a bit of strength about it today and that is so important when the minutes tick down and we need to change the game. Today we could have Özil, Rosicky and Walcott on the bench. How is that for impact?
A win today and we will have the same points as Southampton in 4th albeit with an inferior goal difference and having played a game more. Manchester United play Southampton at Old Trafford today so whichever way you look at it, victory will pull us closer to at least one of them. We just have to win our game.
So let's get that done. Post match stuff later.