Arsenal enjoyed a great end to the 2019-20 season with their FA Cup victory over Chelsea, securing silverware and a place in the Europa League. This was followed up by an equally-impressive performance from the Gunners in their Community Shield win over Premier League League champions Liverpool.
Arsenal are now a revitalised side under Mikel Arteta and there are plenty of signs of optimism since his arrival in December 2019. After years of disappointment and frustration, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel and the current project is something fans can get behind.
Arsenal has been busy in the transfer market so far and have added the likes of Willian and Gabriel Magalhaes to the side, as well as re-securing the services of Dani Ceballos for one more year from Real Madrid. With just under a month left in the transfer window, many more ins and outs are expected at the Emirates, with the club being linked to the likes of Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar, among others.
The Gunners will be looking to build on their recent success in the coming season and challenge for a top-four spot, as well as compete in all the cup competitions. Here is how Arsenal might line up this season, as they look to get back amongst the European elite.
Arteta used the 4-2-3-1 system in the opening few months of the season, but switched to a 3-4-3 post-lockdown to provide more defensive stability. Arsenal beat the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City with this system, and will continue to use the formation at the start of this season.
Arsenal’s biggest selection headache is in goal with both Bernd Leno and Emiliano Martinez having an equal claim to the No.1 spot. While Leno has been more consistent, we believe Martinez will start the season in between the sticks. The Argentine played the Community Shield against Liverpool and may have earned Arteta’s trust with his fantastic performances from the restart last term.
With Shkodran Mustafi injured and Rob Holding reportedly on his way to Newcastle United, William Saliba is set to start for Arsenal as the right-sided CB. The Big Frenchman was bought from Saint Etienne last season for £27 million and is touted as one of the best young defenders in Europe. Arsenal fans caught a glimpse of him in the friendly win vs. MK Dons where he looked assured defensively and calm on the ball.
In the middle of the back three will be the veteran David Luiz. After a poor first season at Arsenal, Luiz was exceptional for the Gunners in their FA Cup run as they switched to the back three. This system masks his poor spatial awareness and decision making, while highlighting his strengths which are his aerial ability and distribution from the back.
On the left side of the back three is Arsenal’s latest defensive addition, Gabriel. Arsenal pipped Napoli to sign the Brazilian defender from Lille for £30 million and being left-footed, he adds balance to the defence and is also incredible in the air and with the ball at his feet.
At the moment, Arsenal's first choice right-wing-back is Hector Bellerin. The Spaniard was nearing his best form in the back-half of last season and was instrumental in Arsenal’s FA Cup run after coming back from a cruciate ligament injury. Bellerin has received plenty of interest from clubs over Europe in this window and many reports are indicating he may be on his way to PSG for the right fee. If he were to leave to raise funds for other positions, the inform Ainsley Maitland-Niles will take his place after plenty of impressive performances in recent big games for Arsenal.
The other wing-back role will be occupied by none other than Kieran Tierney. Tierney had an injury-riddled opening few months at Arsenal but has become a fan favourite since the Premier League restart. Tierney is incredibly quick, has a lethal delivery and is also an incredibly composed defender. Tierney has deputised at left-centre-back in recent weeks, but the arrival of Gabriel means that Tierney can be unleashed further forward where he can have a bigger impact on the game.
One of the first names on the Arsenal team sheet will be former captain, Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international has turned his Arsenal career around under Arteta and is one of the key members of the squad. Last season in the league, Arsenal lost only three matches in the 29 times Xhaka started and completed at least 45 minutes. In the remaining nine matches where Xhaka barely featured, Arsenal lost seven out of nine. Xhaka’s presence in the Gunners' midfield is crucial and he has become a true leader in the middle of the park.
While Xhaka has been influential, Arsenal do need additions in this department and have been heavily linked with a move for Thomas Partey. The Ghanaian has a £45 million release clause, which Atletico want in full and that appears to be the main sticking point in that transfer. Arsenal would need to sell some assets before they can sign him.
Alongside Xhaka in midfield for this season will be Ceballos, who returns for one more year on loan from Real. He formed a formidable partnership with Xhaka in the back end of last season and was one of Arsenal’s best players after the restart. The Spaniard is known for his incredible ball progression and dribbling skills, which integral to Arsenal’s build-up play.
Arsenal, however, are still interested in adding creativity in midfield and have been linked with Houssem Aouar. He would cost upwards of £54 million, but the club is in contact with Lyon and his agents over a possible transfer. Aouar is only 22 and has the potential to be one of the best players in the world in his position, so he could be a major coup.
On the right of the front three is Arsenal’s record-breaking transfer, Nicolas Pepe. He had a middling opening season in England, where he took time to adapt to the pace and physicality of the league. However, he eventually ended the season with eight goals and 10 assists in all competitions and will look to push on in the coming season to justify his price tag. Arsenal have also added Chelsea winger Willian as a back-up option at right-wing, and he adds plenty of experience and creativity to the side.
On the left-wing is the Arsenal captain and talisman, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He is the one truly world-class player in the side and is the heartbeat of this Arsenal team. He scored 29 goals in all competitions last season, including a brace in the semi-finals and final of the FA Cup against Man City and Chelsea.
He continued this scintillating form against Liverpool in the Community Shield, where he scored a screamer to help Arsenal win another piece of silverware. Arsenal fans will be hoping that the reports surrounding Aubameyang’s contract extension are true and he commits his future to the club.
Alexandre Lacazette is set to continue up front for Arsenal, despite many reports linking him with a move away from the Emirates this summer. While Eddie Nketiah is waiting in the wings, he is still not ready to be the main man up top and Lacazette is incredibly important to the way Arsenal play.
Thanks to his excellent holdup play, Lacazette can drop deep and play as a false nine at times, which helps open spaces for Aubameyang and Pepe to run into. He has also been the main man for the Gunners in clutch situations against elite opponents across Europe.
This is my predicted XI for Arsenal at the start of the season. The club is building something special under Arteta and will be hoping that this side can help bring Arsenal back to where they belong. Arsenal’s last three FA Cup victories were eventually false dawns that just papered over the systemic issues deep-rooted within the club. But with Arteta at the helm, there’s reason to believe that this time, it will finally be different.Published 10 Sep 2020, 05:15 IST