Exciting uncertainty breeds anticipation, and that’s exactly the feeling around Arsenal right now as the north London club enter a new era.
Unai Emery will take charge of his first Premier League clash as Gunners boss on Sunday, when Manchester City travel to the Emirates Stadium, and there are plenty of curiosities yet to be answered.
The most significant of those, at least in the short-term, is undoubtedly how Emery will actually set up his side. The Arsenal manager has tested a few different formations and plenty of different personnel in pre-season, so how should the Gunners line up for his first competitive clash at the helm?
Football FanCast lay out three suggested solutions ahead of the 4pm kickoff…
It’s not a system Emery’s experimented with in pre-season but the Gunners certainly have the personnel for it. While Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ future surely lays in midfield, the absence of a left winger will allow him to step into the middle of the park, which suits Hector Bellerin’s natural skill set as well.
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The diamond midfield also addresses two key issues within the Arsenal squad. Perhaps most significantly, it provides a platform to get Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into the same starting XI without one of the strikers playing out of position.
But it also covers up Arsenal’s biggest deficiency at the moment – the absence of any obvious wide attackers barring young players like Alex Iwobi and Reiss Nelson, who can’t be relied upon to perform week-in, week-out just yet.
Emery’s perhaps most synonymous with the 4-2-3-1 setup from his time in La Liga with Valencia and Sevilla, and the formation is rooted in Arsene Wenger’s many years at the club as well – even the Invincibles were pretty much a 4-2-3-1 side with Dennis Bergkamp tucking in behind Thierry Henry.
Nacho Monreal won’t be required to push so far forward compared to Maitland-Niles’ role flanking a diamond midfield, which suits the veteran full-back’s ageing legs, and the introduction of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi at the base of the engine room should make Arsenal considerably tougher to get past on the counter-attack.
However, that deep-lying role doesn’t really benefit Aaron Ramsey, who’s always better when he’s pushing forward rather than covering for others, so the Welshman may end up being a bit of a spare part during the final year of his contract, and the setup will most likely require either Aubameyang or Lacazette to move to the left-hand side.
In pre-season, the former has found himself out there for the sake of the latter.
Emery’s utilised a 4-3-3 setup on the most-part in pre-season, against Chelsea utilising Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as drifting playmakers either side of Aubameyang.
It seems to get everybody in their right positions and ensures there aren’t gaping spaces in midfield, with an obvious role for Ramsey, who Transfermarkt value at £40.5million, ahead of Torreira as the box-to-box bursting forward to support the attack.
If there’s one concern, however, it’s the lack of pace throughout the team. Only Aubameyang really provides the ability to get in behind the opposition defence and while Ozil and Mkhitaryan should be able to thread through decent service, it could leave Arsenal a little one-dimensional at times – searching for that ball over the top to play into the central striker.
Perhaps Lacazette could be drafted in to improve the level of natural pace, but it then becomes a question of who to take out – Ozil and Mkhitaryan aren’t really suited for deeper midfield roles.
So, Gunners fans, which formation would you pick for the opening clash of Arsenal’s Premier League campaign? Let us know by voting below…