I knew the season was upon us when I penned last night’s 2019-20 preview. Yes, the Premier League began on Friday but the matches so far all had the air of preseason friendly about them.
The matches played so far by last season’s top teams were depressingly familiar. Despite playing badly or being out of sorts, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham ran out comfortable winners.
Two promoted teams and West Ham aren’t tough tests; however, the manner in which the three were swatted aside suggests another procession for the Champions League places.
So, along comes the spanner in the works. That’s what Unai Emery’s team hope to be; the wrecking ball which smashes through those getting too comfortable in their Premier League positions. Like we were when the top four was the be-all and end-all of our seasons. Even if we squandered the money.
Arsenal travel to Newcastle United; the Premier League proper begins. The Barcodes have a new manager and like everyone else, spent money like there’s no tomorrow this summer.
I can’t help but think that losing Benitez and Perez will hurt them more than they think. However, local lad Joe Linton makes his debut and the Gallowgate is hoping for another hero. We’ve got an accommodating defence.
Saed Kolasinac and Mesut Ozil are absent for well-documented reasons. David Luiz, fresh from frollicking on the London Colney turf, might start; it’s a risk but Sideshow Bob is always one footstep away from being a risk.
The gambolling around Hertfordshire’s green pastures makes him the likely debutant for Arsenal. Dani Ceballos, given Ozil’s enforced absence, surely starts as well.
These are exciting times when you’re wondering which of the new signings will start. Will they improve the team? Does Ceballos fit Emeryball better than Ozil? What is Emeryball?
I don’t think Nicolas Pepe will start but you can’t rule it out. Alexandre Lacazette training with the first team following his calf injury suggests the club-record signing will be on the bench. Pepe’s pace, however, is likely to draw an ‘oh f**k’ reaction from tiring defenders when he emerges in the second half.
Without a natural fit on the wing, we’ll likely be playing a narrow 4-3-1-2 with width provided by Nacho Monreal and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Yes, the defensive gaps will appear when they go forward but sit Torreira, Guendouzi and Xhaka in front of them and we’ll have some barrier.
Or we should have. A repeat of the first-half performance in the Camp Nou is, as I mentioned last night, the benchmark. Pivotal to that was Joe Willock; Ozil played then so there’s no issue with him and Ceballos in the same team. Is today his chance?
If Nicolas Pepe is knackered from the summer, the same applies to Lucas Torreira after Copa America. As was observed in one of the commentaries this weekend, seasons don’t end anymore. International tournaments mean they merge almost seamlessly into one another.
Who Willock replaces is the question. Guendouzi seems likeliest but if Torreira is tired, Joe fits in nicely alongside the Frenchman and Xhaka. And there is plenty of opportunity for a Jimi Hendrix reference in the headline.
Which, with kick-off fast approaching, is time to delve into the line-up:
Leno; Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Sokratis, Monreal; Xhaka, Guendouzi, Willock; Ceballos; Lacazette, Aubameyang
Nelson in a more orthodox 4-3-3? Possibly, particularly if Torreira starts. We’ll soon find out.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.