Early Saturday games are the worst for me. Being on the West Coast of the US means a 4:45AM start time. When I wake up to watch I have to ignore the normal interaction I have with all the fans around the world, because I'll be watching on delay off of my DVR. For this weeks three questions I'm talking with pdb from The Short Fuse who also resides on the West Coast and much watch the game the same way. Be sure to check out my reverse questions over there.
CC: With early fixture congestion, injuries, lack of new bodies, and a suspension Arsenal don't seem to have a lot of healthy bodies to play this match. Are we likely to see a back line of Jenkinson, Sagna, Mertesacker, Gibbs? Or is Monreal going to be fit enough to start? Who are going to be the back up CB's on the bench?
TSF: That does seem to be the likely Arsenal back line; Kos' injury isn't as bad as was feared - no skull fracture! - but even if healthy, he will not play a role Saturday thanks to the red card he picked up against Villa. Nacho Monreal (I always have to use his full name, because he's a guy named Nacho) may see some significant minutes; he's the least seriously hurt of all the hurt Arsenal players at the moment. In what will be a recurring theme in this conversation, my stock answer to the "who's going to be the backup (whatever position) for the next game" has started to be "What are you doing this weekend? Can you get to London by morning?" It's pretty thin on the Arsenal bench at the moment, Wenger's bench for both games has been Podolski/Jenkinson/Sanogo/Frimpong/Gnabry, with only Nacho and Cazorla being interchangeable there; it's not going too far out on a limb to say that'll be more or less the bench you'll see on Saturday. Which doesn't answer your specific question, because Arsenal are pretty much out of center-backs, but I'm sure one of Frimpong/Gnabry can step in back there if needed.
CC: The UCL result on Wednesday probably took some pressure of the club. But the Fulham match is still followed by what will be a desperate Fenerbache side on Tuesday, and a huge game with Spurs at the Emirates on September 1st. Given the importance of those two games, might Wenger bring in some youth depth for the Fulham match to give the thin squad a bit of a rest? If so, who do you think they might be?
TSF: Arsene Wenger, over his long and illustrious career, is not known for either heavy squad rotation or for deciding that a non-Carling Cup game is unimportant, so I would be very surprised to see a youth influx on Saturday. It'll probably be a similar lineup/bench to Wednesday, without Koscielny of course. How one feels about that is a reasonable analog for how one feels about Arsenal these days; if Wednesday Arsenal shows up, I'll be OK with it. Not so much if Villa Arsenal shows up.
CC: All the talk seemed to be about Arsenal trying to bring in forwards and strikers. In my opinion Giroud, Walcott, Chamberlain, Podolski, Cazorla, Sanogo is a pretty good set of players to choose from. I'd be much more concerned about the depth at CB and in the midfield. It doesn't really seem that Arsenal ever really got over the loss of Alex Song in midfield and really only has two CB's. In your opinion, what's the most important area the team could strengthen in the rest of the window?
TSF: I think you hit it pretty close to on the head - CB and midfield are the two areas that Arsenal desperately need cover/help in. The issue right now is that Arsenal have so many guys hurt that Wenger can't necessarily offer a new signing guaranteed first-team football once (insert crocked Arsenal player name here) is healthy again; that's not always a huge roadblock, but this is a World Cup year, and players in national-team contention need to be playing every game. We saw this in Arsenal's unsuccessful bid for Luis Gustavo; he would have been a great fit, but he chose to move to Wolfsburg because they could guarantee he'd play every game, and Arsenal could not make a similar guarantee.
Key players, projected lineup, and score prediciton
TSF: As far as key players to watch, you could do worse than focusing on Jack Wilshere during the match. He came under some heavy criticism last year because of his potential and his inconsistency; he's got a metric ton of the former, and just enough of the latter to infuriate some. Olivier Giroud hasn't quite found his French League-leading scorer boots at Arsenal, but he's off to a great start this season so far and is a guy to keep your eye on as well.
With a very short squad, the predicted lineup question is so easy! (goes to website, cuts/pastes last game's lineup, makes a couple edits, done!): Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Monreal (hopefully), Gibbs, Rosicky, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud, Walcott. I'm never very good at score predictions, but I'll say 2-1 Arsenal because I'm a homer like that. (Can I be a homer if I don't live in London?)