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Unai Emery will have a full-fit squad to choose from soon
Arsenal look set to have a fully-fit squad from which to choose in the coming weeks.
Long-term injured centre-back Rob Holding is back training with the first team, while Hector Bellerin, new signing Kieran Tierney and Konstantinos Mavropanos are also nearing returns to action after spells on the sidelines.
And after the first four games of the new season and a two-week international break to take stock, head coach Unai Emery is surely much the wiser about the quality of his squad and who deserves a regular place in his side.
Tierney is the one new arrival yet to make his debut for the club, but his return from injury is now edging nearer and the full-back will soon be available to increase the strength in depth of choice that Emery has for his back line.
Dani Ceballos, Nicolas Pepe and David Luiz have all had starting places in the build-up to the first international break, but can they be considered as part of Arsenal’s strongest possible lineup?
From the outset it is worth noting that the Arsenal boss is not a manager who believes in naming the same XI week in, week out regardless of who the opposition is. He will cut his cloth according to what he is presented with by his opposition but he also has clear tactical principles he will apply.
One that has become undoubtedly clear early in the season is that Emery wants Arsenal to play with a four-man defence. After the midway point last term the back three with wing-backs became a system the Gunners increasingly relied on but there was always a sense that that approach was based on shielding the deficiencies of the backline rather than a first-choice system.
Even away to Liverpool, one of the toughest tests the Gunners will face this season, Emery stuck with his back four even though he is some way short of having it at full strength. With Nacho Monreal departed it is evident just how much faith Arsenal have in Tierney, who will be the starting left-back when he is available – potentially next month – with Hector Bellerin on the other flank.
In the short term it seems likely that Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz will be his starting centre-back pairing though Rob Holding will expect to be vying for a starting spot in the coming weeks, particularly with both having made high-profile errors early in the campaign.
The front three also picks itself and it appears highly likely that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will have to settle for a place on the left flank with Alexandre Lacazette at centre forward.
It is how Emery structures his midfield that is up for debate and in all likelihood it is most likely to be the part of the pitch where he varies his options most regularly. If there is one player who appears to have established himself as undroppable, however, it is 20-year-old Matteo Guendouzi, the stand-out performer in the north London derby and a starter in all four league games so far.
Granit Xhaka may be a divisive figure among supporters but his leadership is valued by Emery, who is expected to give him the club captaincy. As such it is likely he will start more often than not, leaving one spot to be fought over by four players.
Each of Joe Willock, Lucas Torreira, Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil offer unique qualities to be brought to this Arsenal team and who starts will almost certainly depend on the opposition.
Both Ceballos and Ozil have the vision to open up opponents and the former can do so from a deeper starting position, something which perhaps gives him the slightest of edges over the German. For all that Ozil’s qualities are undoubted it felt significant that when Arsenal were chasing the game against Tottenham first Ceballos and then Henrikh Mkhitaryan were introduced.
The dynamism of Willock has clear value but the Gunners will be eager not to get carried away with potential. As for Torreira, well Arsenal fans need no reminding of his rampaging, high-octane brilliance.
The Uruguayan’s ability to command a midfield battle, to snap at opponents and implement the high press Emery demands likely means that on the biggest occasions a place will be found for him in the side, as it should be in our strongest XI.
Arsenal’s strongest XI: Leno; Bellerin, Luiz, Sokratis, Tierney; Torreira, Xhaka, Guendouzi; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang