Transfer business done early, social media team pumping out videos, multinational banter in overdrive. Apart from Ivan Gazidis possibly leaving for AC Milan ten minutes after finally gaining the power he’s craved at the club for a decade, it’s been an efficient, feel-good summer for Arsenal so far.
But how will Arsenal line up this season? The new additions have given more balance to a weirdly-assembled squad, and now there are options aplenty in some positions, and still dangerously few in others.
Unai Emery likes a 4-2-3-1. It’s what he wanted to play at PSG, but his players talked him into the 4-3-3 that they preferred. At Arsenal, where Mesut Ozil must be used and is pretty much wasted as anything other than a #10, the Spanish coach seems likely to revert back to his old favourite.
Among fans there has been talk of a 4-4-2 diamond that would accommodate Torreira, Xhaka, Ramsey and Ozil while allowing Lacazette and Aubameyang to play as a traditional front two. It’s an extremely tempting proposition in theory, but is unlikely for three reasons.
- As stated, Emery prefers 4-2-3-1 or a variant.
- It asks the full backs to create all the width and fullback is not a position of strength for Arsenal at the moment. Kolasinac and Bellerin are dubious at both ends of the pitch, and while Monreal have proven a very effective attacking outlet, at 32 he can’t be expected to cover a whole flank on his own.
- A 4-4-2 diamond is simply very rarely used by modern managers. The last successful implementation of the system in the Premier League was Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool in the 2013-14 season.
A different solution would be to use the PSG-esque 4-3-3. This system is arguably optimum for the most players. It would allow Torreira, Xhaka and Ramsey to all start and play in their best roles, while offering a little more defensive solidity than the 4-2-3-1.
As ever though, Mesut Ozil’s role would be problematic. It’s not as if he hasn’t started plenty of games for both Arsenal and Germany on the right side, but it doesn’t get the best out of him. This is inarguable.
The Armenian conundrum
In all this, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is somewhat of a forgotten man. Having barely played in the first half of last season, he joined Arsenal in January and had a mixed time of it, albeit playing in a largely dysfunctional team. Despite that, two Man of the Match awards, two goals and four assists in nine Premier League starts was a decent return, and he’ll be looked to as a serious creative outlet this time around.
Positionally, however, it feels as if he can’t help but be sacrificed. If Ozil is fit, Mkhitaryan won’t play in his best position – as a #10. Due to the lack of other good wide options, his most-likely role will be on the right, where he’ll be expected to come inside and link up with Ozil and the striker, leaving space for Bellerin to overlap (and put in terrible crosses).
For all the talk of getting the best out of Ozil, how Emery makes use of Mkhitaryan will be equally fascinating.
Other areas to watch
- With Koscielny injured for the long term and Sokratis having been brought in at some expense, he and and Mustafi can be expected to start the season as the first choice centreback pairing. But Holding and Chambers are showing promise, and will be snapping at the senior defenders’ heels. Can they break into the first XI this season?
- Granit Xhaka can pass. And sometimes shoot. He can’t really run. He can’t really tackle. His defensive awareness is staggeringly bad at times. If Emery can find a way to get Torreira into the XI, it may free up Xhaka to do the one thing he does really well. Pass.
- Bellerin and Kolasinac, (but especially Bellerin) were failed by Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff. There is no doubt that Hector Bellerin should be one of Europe’s best fullbacks at his age and with his talent, and Kolasinac shouldn’t be that far behind given his physical attributes. Instead, both have plateaued massively and Emery and his team need to give them their mojos back. If they can’t, however, Lichsteiner and Monreal are still damn good players, and a period out of the side might beckon for the younger pair.
- How long will it take Bernd Leno to oust Petr Cech as Arsenal’s #1?
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