UPDATE: Never mind.
As Wenger said, Arsenal will field a full-strength side at Sunderland. Later, at his press conference, the manager confirmed that Robin van Persie would start and Marouane Chamakh is available after his stint at the African Cup of Nations.
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So, I don't want to be a jerk about this, and I'll admit up front that this is based on nothing. But...
This is the last match for the Premier League's loanees from Major League Soccer. That means that Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, and Thierry Henry will return to their parent clubs after this match. So if you're a team with one of these players, wouldn't it behoove you to play them from the off this weekend?
I don't want to be alarmist. Honestly, I don't really think that van Persie will be rested. But... I can't shake the thought either.
Arsenal have a really tough run of games coming up. They play at Sunderland twice this week. One each in the League and the FA Cup. In between those two matches, they play at AC Milan this coming Wednesday as the Champions League resumes. That's just this week! Afterwards it doesn't get easier as they play the North London derby against Spurs and travel to Liverpool before hosting AC Milan in the Champions League again.
Then they host Newcastle United, who currently lead them in the Premier League table!
That's seven pivotal matches over the course of the next month. And of those matches, which one looks the one where Wenger could possibly give van Persie a rest? That's right... this one, with Henry still in the squad.
Wenger was roundly booed - and criticized by van Persie - when he replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Andrei Arshavin against Manchester United. Since then, he's been smart enough to substitute Ox with Henry in every match. How could Arsenal fans get upset with the substitution when it is their greatest ever player (* subject to debate, of course) who is the one coming into the match?
Similarly, if Wenger were to leave van Persie on the bench it had better be Thierry Henry in the starting line-up instead of Park or Chamakh. And that's only going to be possible this weekend.
The final piece of this elaborate, and possibly mental, theory is the provisional squad that Wenger released. As we've discussed before, Wenger is unusual in that his provisional squad usually tips his hand as to who is going to be in the starting XI. You just have to read the first eleven names on the list. The twelfth name is usually Fabianski, followed by the expected substitutes. So what does this weekend's squad list look like?
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Sagna, Walcott, Song, Benayoun, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henry, Rosicky, Arteta, Van Persie, Park, Arshavin, Fabianski, Ramsey, Chamakh, Gibbs.
The first eleven seems to contain Henry, but not van Persie. However, Fabianski isn't in his usual spot and I'm surprised to see both Sagna and Coquelin listed.
So, what's a conflicted fantasy manager to do? Sell, of course.With Arsenal's tough run of matches - documented above - and the uncertainty (that I'm creating in my head, perhaps) I'm going to sell van Persie for Clint Dempsey.
Your mileage may vary. You may see things differently. But this is the ledge I'm willing to climb out on this weekend.