There is a saying that when it rains at Arsenal, it pours, and that is exactly the club’s defensive situation ahead of the FA Cup final against the Premier League champions Chelsea. After Laurent Koscielny got himself suspended for a ludicrous challenge on Enner Valencia in the game against Everton and Gabriel got stretchered off later in the same game, the Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has now stated that he does not expect Shkodran Mustafi to start the all-important Cup final either.
Speaking in his press conference, the Frenchman said: “Mustafi, we still have some worries about. He is still sick at the moment, and has not trained yet. I do not think [Mustafi will play]. I have to listen to the medical people.”
Considering that the German international has not even started training yet, you’d have to say that it would take a minor miracle for him to be fit enough to start the Cup final, which leaves young Rob Holding and the Gunners’ forgotten captain Per Mertesacker as the only two recognised central defenders, with Nacho Monreal being an alternative option. Even if Mustafi wanted to play and Wenger is willing to risk it, there are strict FA guidelines that will not let it happen. So how would Arsenal line up at the back?
For me, there are two options. If Arsenal have to stick to the current three-at-the-back system, Mertesacker has to start alongside Holding and Monreal. Considering that the Spaniard is not a natural centre-half, the inexperience of Holding and the fact that Mertesacker has not started a game in more than a year, sticking with the system against a free-flowing Chelsea side may be a recipe for disaster.
The alternative would be to revert to a back-four, with Monreal and Holding at the heart of the defence. While this formation does not scream defensive stability either, I would go with it ahead of having to play Mertesacker. The big German is clearly past it and surely cannot be trusted to marshall the defence in a game as big as the FA Cup final.