Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger brought in four new signings this summer but who will become his best starting XI this season at the Emirates?
Formation: 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1
Goalkeeper: Wojceich Szczesny
Despite the arrival of Emiliano Viviano on loan, it’s still clear that the Polish youngster will be the number 1 and, whilst he might feel challenged here and there by the Italian and Lukasz Fabianski, I think it’s clear Szczesny gets the nod if he’s available.
It’s his responsibility to ensure he remains focused because the manager hasn’t really provided him with the kind of challenge that will genuinely keep him on his toes.
Central Defence: Per Mertesacker & Laurent Koscielny
Captain Thomas Vermaelen’s loss of both form and fitness has been something of a concern but, in his absence, the emergence of Koscielny and Mertesacker as one of the Premier League’s finest partnerships has really flourished.
That unbeaten run at the back end of last term was in large part down to a more concerted effort and focus on team defending but the German giant and the Frenchman really imposed themselves admirably.
They’re both strong in the air, dominant in the box defending set-pieces which the Gunners had always suffered as an Achilles heel. They fixed that – no longer do Arsenal fans have to suffer, hiding behind the couch every time some lower league team launches a long-throw. They are capable and committed and the calamitous mistakes are slowly being eradicated.
Mertesacker is a great crutch for the younger Koscielny because he’s so calm and his reading of the game is outstanding. They make a great pairing and its going to take some real resolve for the captain to force his way back into the starting line up – especially with the World Cup just around the corner.
Fullbacks: Bacary Sagna & Kieran Gibbs
I was surprised Bacary Sagna stayed in the end – he looked like moving on but it’s a real success of the club that they’ve held on to him because he is such a big player for the Gunners. Defensively he’s strong, intelligent and focused and going forward his decision-making, passing, crossing and determination to get forward is so important on that right flank.
Meanwhile, I fancy Kieran Gibbs to have his best season in an Arsenal shirt this term – he’s not a youngster anymore and if he can stay fit, he can match anyone of his day. His tackling is strong and reliable, his positioning has improved and his ability going forward really puts pressure on defences and creates space for the attackers around him.
He really showed his desire and commitment recently in Istanbul – marshalling his teammates up the pitch and driving the team forward. I think he will be just as important as Sagna for Arsenal this term and Nacho Monreal will give him the impetus to keep him focus and form.
Central Midfield: Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere & Mesut Ozil
The arrival of Mesut Ozil throws up an interesting selection conundrum for Wenger but also some exciting possible combinations in the heart of his midfield. I tend to think it will come down to who is fit over the course of the season due to the wealth of options in that department.
For me, if Mikel Arteta is fit, he plays. He is so important to the team due to his obvious quality, intelligence and creativity but more recently for his work ethic, his determination, his leadership, experience – he is, in my estimation, the real captain even when Vermaelen plays. He’s not a defensive midfielder but you wouldn’t know it most of the time - he has to be in the line-up when he’s fit.
The sensational form and fitness of Aaron Ramsey means he’ll have to force his way back into the team and it’s a shame the Welshman doesn’t make it because he really is looking like a game-changer recently – his energy and work-rate is exemplary and if he can do it consistently, he’ll give the manager a real headache in a month or so when Arteta returns, especially if his partnership with Jack Wilshere flourishes and if Mathieu Flamini impresses, there could be areal fight for places this term.
Jack Wilshere picks himself – if he’s fit which is going to be the crucial factor. He’s like a miniature Minotaur for Arsenal. A true leader, despite his youth, and a workaholic – his quality and technique is second to none…at least none other than Mesut Ozil.
The German playmaker is signing of the summer as far as I’m concerned. Wenger’s not stupid enough to play him out of position – he may wear the number 11 shirt but he’ll be deployed as a number 10 which, necessarily, means Santi Cazorla will move out wide.
You can’t leave the Spaniard out of the team and it’s a mouth-watering prospect to imagine Cazorla working inside off the flank, combining with Ozil and Wilshere in the middle.
Wingers: Theo Walcott & Santi Cazorla
What Cazorla will do out wide is draw defenders to him and create space for Ozil to work in centrally where he’ll be perfectly suited to finding that magic, that through ball, the perfectly weighted past to set either Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott through on goal.
What Theo will do is stretch the play so that there’s even more space in-field for Ozil – it’s going to be entertaining watching teams come to the Emirates and chase shadows for 90 minutes because that is exactly how Wenger will set this team up. Walcott and Cazorla (for different reasons) will take defenders’ energy and focus, drawing them away from Ozil and Wilshere and vice versa.
The five in midfield (if you count the widemen) are going to completely dominate possession and annihilate the opposition, draining them in the way that Barcelona do, breaking them down and wearing them out.
Arsenal have in the past few games also been much more focused on counter-attacking – drawing teams on to them and then breaking like no one’s business. Walcott’s pace is crucial to that tactic and the determination to get forward from the midfielders means teams get caught napping and outnumbered.
Lukas Podolski’s injury is unfortunately and I suspect when he returns three months down the line, he’ll have to spend a couple more months working on his fitness and form which is a real shame.
Much the same can be said for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who’s out for 10 weeks but, the silver lining, is that Wenger has an abundance of midfield options to move out wide. You can never write Tomas Rosicky out of any season – if he’s fit, he’s a game-changer and with Ozil’s arrival and the injuries Wenger has, I reckon he’ll alternate in and out of the line-up with Cazorla.
Striker: Olivier Giroud
Arsenal only really have Giroud – at least whilst Yaya Sanogo develops and adapts and whilst Lukas Podolski is injured and whilst Nicklas Bendtner is, well, Nicklas Bendtner.*
The Frenchman looks really up for it this term, he got a very good pre-season under his belt and he’s firing on all cylinders. His work defensively is important too because of the aerial ability he has – his game is about being physical, getting in people’s faces and his movement off the ball to work himself into dangerous positions.
He’s not Robin Van Persie but he’s still a real danger man, especially with the likes of Ozil, Wilshere, and Cazorla pulling the strings behind him – he’s going to get chances all day long and, if he can keep his fitness up and his confidence too, he could well outscore the departed Dutchman this term.
(*Bendtner isn’t actually half bad when he applies himself so watch this space, I guess – once he returns from injury, if he wants to have a go at playing some football, I’m sure Wenger will humour him when possible and, who knows, he might actually score some goals which is what he’s paid to do, after all.)
What do you believe Arsenal's best XI will look like?
image: © michael hilton