This time next week fellow Gooners, it’ll be countdown to Premier League match weekend one and we’ll be but a few days away from finding out just how ready Unai Emery’s charges are for the slog ahead.
The summer has been kind to us so far. We’ve done business early, the players have had plenty of time to digest and understand how Emery wants his team to set up, plus we’ve got just the one contract saga to worry about this summer. But unlike other summers when big players are on the verge of sticking or twisting, this doesn’t feel nearly as traumatic.
Perhaps it’s because we’ve all become a little more wiser to the fact that ‘these things happen’ or perhaps it’s because Ramsey spends a fair bit of time on the treatment table each season, plus the fact he’s a player who polarises opinions, but it feels like this is an issue that won’t completely derail us like some of the others did.
So where are we at? What have we learned from the friendlies that we’ve seen so far?
Well, from my perspective I haven’t seen as much of the high press as I thought I would, although I’m not angry or frustrated by that. The players have had a footballing culture defined by one man for their entire footballing careers up until this point and so completely changing that in a few weeks was always going to be an impossible task.
It feels like the start of the season will therefore very much be a slow transition from the old to the new and in that sense I think it’s fair to suggest that trepidation about the beginning of the season most certainly remains. It does for me anyway.
You only have to look at the way our back line gives away big chances to see that teams are going to get in behind us this season. With a defence that isn’t the most rapid in the world and a manager who wants to pull his back four further up the pitch, it’s going to be a nerve-wracking start to the season against the Champions I reckon. City have bags of pace and although we don’t know who will play in a week’s time, we know that Pep has enough in his whole squad to do us serious damage, so my hope is that between now and the start of the season Unai is working on a way to ensure we aren’t caught time and time again with players running in behind.
We’ve also learned that we have a lot of promise in our midfield, but by golly, don’t we all hope that Rambo, Xhaka and Torreira are all fit come the first game of the season. We’ve all been pleased with Guendouzi and Smith-Rowe has added to the promise already shown by Nelson and Maitland-Niles, but that experience sitting in front of the back four is invaluable and my hope is that we get to see Torreira and Xhaka as a base for the Lazio game.
I have a feeling that might work. Xhaka isn’t mobile, but has vision, where as Torreira looks like a terrier and that is good. Having somebody covering ground where Xhaka can’t will only provide more comfort for us in the stands I reckon.
So with that in mind, what sort of team would I pick, for that first game against City? I normally save that for the day of the game but I’m excited enough to have a stab now and I guess this is more of a ‘who do I think will play the most?’ Question rather than isolating it to the City team alone.
I think Arsenal’s best team right now is Cech in sticks, Bellerin, Sokratis, Mustafi and Monreal. I have a suspicion that Mavropanos might get closer and certainly if he’s got more recovery pace then that’s what I’d be looking at, but Mustafi gets the nod based on continuity, rather than him being a natural choice. Monreal is Mr consistent and whilst we’re all hoping Kolasinac steps it up this season and wrestled control from the Spaniard – given the respective age profiles of the players – right now you can’t look beyond Nacho.
In midfield I’d like to see the trio of Xhaka, Ramsey and Torreira. I think that offers energy, movement, goal threat and defensive cover in a more even balance. Of course what that means is that one of the front four miss out.
Which is where it gets tough.
It’s tough because I rate all of the players and I don’t know why, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Mkhitaryan will not get as much game time. If you’re talking about players more naturally suited to two wide positions either side of a main striker then you’d say Özil and Mkhi either side of Aubameyang. But I think Emery is going to push Auba out wide left, Laca through the middle and Özil on the right.
Of course I’ve given these players those positions, but if I was the manager I’d be telling those three to act as a rotating unit. If Laca drifts wide, Auba should go centre forward, then if Özil is in the middle, the two strikers should split and create a bit more width. Or you could even have two up top and Özil in the 10.
What I’m trying to say here is the key for Arsenal to be successful this season is, for me, about fluidity of roles going forward. I love movement and I love it when players are clever enough to drag defenders around to create space for others. That’s what I’m dying to see more than anything else about Arsenal this season. I hope we get it.
And if we do I think we’ll score goals. Lots of goals. By the bucketload. So it then becomes about making sure the defence is as least rickety as it can possibly manage.
The Premier League is now within touching distance. And I can’t wait.