Thoughts on a best starting XI
This is the time of the summer when many of us are trying to figure out what Arsenal’s best starting XI will look like. Last season there was little doubt what our best team would be, with many of the staple players in place already and the new members (Arteta and Mertesacker in particular) seemed to slot in easily, either due to filling an injury spot or replacing an outgoing player. This year there’s some uncertainty that makes this discussion quite an interesting one.
For one, there’s still the single largest unknown in van Persie, who remains at the club, even though rumours still abound about his imminent departure. Obviously, if he stays at Arsenal, he will continue in his capacity as centre forward and main goal scorer. (Whether or not he remains captain is something that’s been hotly debated; I for one believe he should pass on the armband to one of two potential captains in Vermaelen, the currently vice-captain, or Arteta. The latter has displayed incredible control over midfield with his ball possession and tireless effort on the pitch, while also maintaining a very mature and disciplined image to the media. I like Vermaelen as well, but think Arteta’s experience would give him the edge in the running for club captain). In any event, whether or not van Persie is captain, if he remains he will be first choice central striker with Giroud providing backup either from the bench or in rotation for cup ties. I’d hate to see the Ligue 1 top goalscorer not get regular starting time at the club, but we still have no idea exactly what’s going to happen up front. I’m assuming the Dutchman will move on, since there’s been far too much activity involved in this direction to ignore.
Podolski can also play centre forward, but I feel will more than likely play as a left winger and will mirror Walcott on the right. It will be interesting to see in which positions Wenger chooses to play these top class attackers, or whether he’s open to swapping positions from time to time. One player who seems likely to have a solid starting spot is Cazorla, who is a creative player with technical ability, skill, and versatility; without much doubt, it seems he’ll slot in to the “Cesc” role as a playmaker to unleash the front line attackers. The change in midfield will most likely be Arteta taking up a spot alongside Alex Song in the deep midfield. This isn’t such a stretch, since Arteta did a lot of connecting play from the back to the front last season when Song strayed forward to attempt a creative contribution (which worked on occasion, but left the defense exposed). When Wilshere returns, he may rotate with either of these players, but the issue is he’s been out for a full year, so I’d bet Wenger will ease him back in and see where he’s most comfortable at that time.
Much of the defense is a pretty straight forward selection, in my opinion. Szczesny between the sticks is our best option (even if I’d prefer a quality keeper as competition for #1), with Sagna and Santos as full backs. I know some prefer Gibbs and, though he’ll be a great defender some day, I don’t think he has the composure we need at the back right now. Rotating between Santos and Gibbs will give us variety at left back and provide an easy option for resting whichever player does get the go ahead as first choice. The same is the case with the central defenders. I like our top three and find it hard to choose between them. I think it will come down to which pair works best together and the individual challenges of each particular team we face: last season I liked Koscielny and Mertesacker, the former providing solid tackling and crunch time defending, while the latter has the best positioning of any of the three and an added height advantage. Vermaelen is still a machine and I feel works best with Koscielny when paired. On any given game day (even a cold Saturday at Stoke) I’d be happy with either selection or combination of these three players Wenger chooses.
It’s not an easy thing to do, but I think I’ve found my favoured starting XI. Assuming RvP leaves and Wilshere’s return is staggered, I think we’ll see these players making the cut in most Premier League matches:
Make what you will of this. I am certainly open to discussion here, so feel free to drop a line and let me know where you think our players will find themselves in a month’s time. The fact that it isn’t easy to choose a starting XI means that we have more quality in the squad now than perhaps we did last season, which can only be a good thing for the team and our hopes of silverware this time around.