The opening home game of the season is always a special occasion. The campaign is really underway when the Arsenal lay in front of their own fans.
Today sees an attempt to inject atmosphere into the stadium:
Hope it goes better for you than the parachutist who ended up in the North Bank building site.
It is a big day for Unai Emery. We get a better idea of who his core players will be. Most were on the pitch last weekend at some point but Alexandre Lacazette, for example, wasn’t.
While we set out with a 4-2-3-1 formation last week, it’s a home game; we’ll need to be more adventurous in our play. It takes a subtle change in personnel to achieve that end and Granit Xhaka’s absence helps. That’s if he hasn’t recovered from his back problem.
The upcoming matches against Liverpool and Tottenham influence team selection, surely? It’s too much to expect full debuts at Anfield or in the North London Derby. Too many of the new signings are in key positions to be left to tat level of chance.
Which is tough on this such as Chambers, Nelson and Willock who will drop to the bench. David Luiz and Nicholas Pepe are almost certain to start. Dani Ceballos faces competition from Mesut Özil who returned to training this week.
Unai’s caution with player fitness suggests the German won’t start. His absence from the club derailed the final phase of his preseason training and it seems most contrary to put him in from the start.
But needs must. The answer to that little problem comes with Ceballos’ own fitness. I was surprised he didn’t start at St James Park but a home game is in many respects an easier introduction to the English game.
Alongside Ceballos (or Özil) in a midfield trio, I’d like to see Torreira and Guendouzi. The former takes the defensive duties, the latter the harrying.
It’s a complicated choice although the decision is masked by fitness. There are so many factors at play in this aspect of the team selection.
Not least of which is Granit Xhaka. He’s been burbling on about how captaining Arsenal is an honour, seemingly oblivious to it being a poisoned chalice. Captains don’t last too long; age or greed catches up with sooner or later.
Unless, of course, this is his way of handing in a transfer request but keeping all his loyalty bonuses intact.
On the playing side, I’ve been clear that I think we have better options and combinations. I don’t, however, agree that he and David Luiz cannot play in the same side. Emery will prove that wrong in coming weeks, if not today.
Xhaka is a ‘caught in between’ midfielder. Arsène and Unai want him to be a defensive midfielder which he quite clearly isn’t. Yet we don’t play a system which suits his relatively static style.
He’s caught in between a rock and a hard place. A style which doesn’t suit him in a role to which he is ill-suited.
Nonetheless, Wenger and now Emery like him so in the XI he stays. For the moment: Unai is no stranger to using players for expediencies sake.
All of which leaves us with the forward line. A potentially prolific one at that. Close to 70 goals between them last season; no wonder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang salivated at the prospect of playing with Pepe and Lacazette.
A fluid, interchangeable trio, taking spaces left by the runs of others? It’s definitely the most potent I can think of in my Arsenal lifetime.
Pace, Power, Proligacy
Hopefully not the latter. Or not the latter to the extent that we are left ruing missed chances.
Notionally, you’d expect Pepe and Aubameyang to occupy the wider roles. The latter worked OK in preseason for Auba so no reason why it shouldn’t now we’re playing proper matches.
There are so many potentially potent combinations for the three to play, it is almost dizzying. Unai may have a cunning plan to bring out the best in them. I’m hoping it isn’t the Baldrick moment most of us would have when it comes to fitting them into the side!
But fit them in he must. We’re facing Burnley; in the real and electronic stands we’ve banked the three points and are preparing for the sterner tests ahead. If you’re going to give out a sprinkling of debuts, this is the game to do it in.
Which leaves the team:
Leno; Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Guendouzi, Ceballos; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Özil, Willock and Nelson are the subs between the 60th and 85th minutes, injuries excepted.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.