It is fair to say that to this point in the season, Unai Emery has not settled on what his best lineup is. Obviously, much of this is not the manager’s fault. Due to a number of long-term injuries, Emery has not been playing with a full deck in terms of his team selection. In this piece, I’m going to put myself in the manager’s shoes and give what I think should be Arsenal’s starting XI when the international break is over. A few disclaimers before I start: 1) This is not how I think Unai Emery the XI I think Unai Emery will actually select, rather how I would line Arsenal up if I was given the reigns; 2) This selection is based on the assumption that the whole squad is available for the Sheffield United game which at this moment is believed to be the case.
An obvious one to start. Leno has been quite good so far this season. None of the defensive problems Arsenal have had this season can be blamed on the German shot-stopper and he has had some excellent performances, keeping us in games when the protection he was afforded was way below par.
Bellerin has been questioned defensively at times in his Arsenal career but what he offers in an attacking sense is up there with the best in the Premier League. Bellerin provided five assists in his 20 Premier League appearances last season and his pace on the overlap is a big asset to Arsenal. As well as what he can bring individually, I believe he can also help Nicolas Pepe by giving him more attacking support and opening up more space for the Ivorian on the right-hand side.
Holding was outstanding last season prior to the serious injury he picked up at Old Trafford in November. He was an integral part of the team when they went on a 23 match unbeaten run in all competitions. In his appearances so far this season in the League Cup and Europa League, Holding looks to have picked up where he left off last season and with Arsenal’s defensive woes, his return to the first XI will be welcomed by every Arsenal fan.
I think it is fair to say that to this point in the season, Chambers has been Arsenal’s best defender. Arsenal’s two league clean sheets have come when Chambers has started and he really hasn’t had a sub-par performance, even deputising at right-back. Chambers has earned a spot in the team and should be given the opportunity to show what he can do in his preferred position.
Since his arrival from Celtic this on deadline day, Arsenal fans have all been eagerly awaiting Tierney’s return from his double-hernia operation. Like Holding, he has only made League Cup and Europa League appearances so far, which only amplifies the calls for him to start. In his two appearances this season, Tierney has created more chances than Saed Kolasinac has in his eight league starts. Tierney will bring a combination of defensive stability and attacking threat on the left of Arsenal’s side that has been seriously lacking and he is a player that must be put into the first XI.
Torreira made an immediate impact when he was introduced to the side last season, playing as a defensive midfield player. He has the best defensive instincts and tackling ability of any of Arsenal’s midfield options. So far this season, when Torreira has played, he has been used as a box to box player or on the right of a midfield diamond. I don’t believe that this gives the Uruguayan the opportunity to have the impact he is capable of. Used as a defensive midfield player, Torreira can give Arsenal the defensive protection that has been desperately lacking in the early stages of the campaign.
The 20-year old Frenchman has been Arsenal’s best player in the opening eight league games. His infectious energy and passion make him an ideal player to play alongside Torreira, offering the technical ability to take the ball from the backline and transition Arsenal into the attacking phase of their game. His energy levels also allow him to support attacks and help to create opportunities for the attacking players Arsenal have at their disposal.
Willock has been outstanding when he has played this season. Where Arsenal have really struggled this season has been that the midfield isn’t giving enough support to the front-three, leaving them isolated and limiting the scoring opportunities for the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette. Willock offers the attacking and goalscoring instincts from midfield that will create more space and chances for the strikers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Arsenal’s best performances have been in the cup competitions this season where Willock has been used in this attacking midfield role. His ability to make runs in the box and get into goalscoring positions is similar to that of Aaron Ramsey, whose departure has left a gaping hole in Arsenal’s side. Willock is definitely the best option to fill this gap that Emery has available to him.
This was possibly the hardest decision as Pepe has underperformed to this point, and Bukayo Saka has emerged as a serious option on either wing for the Gunners. I still have faith that Pepe will find his best form at the Emirates and needs to be given more time to find his feet in the English game. The return of Hector Bellerin will open up more space for the winger and if Joe Willock can break the lines, I think it will help Pepe to produce his best form.
Lacazette has been a big loss for Arsenal since the Tottenham game where the ankle injury he had been carrying since pre-season finally got too much for him to play through. The French striker has the combination of work-rate, link play and goalscoring instincts that make him a complete striker. As well as what he provides with his own ability, his presence offers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang more opportunities as opposition defences cannot completely key-in on the Gabonese striker.
Much like Leno in goal, this one doesn’t really need much explaining. In Aubameyang, Arsenal have one of the most deadly finishers in world football. His instincts and movement around the goal make him a constant threat and even in an Arsenal side that has struggled for creativity this season, he has still netted eight times in 10 appearances in all competitions.
With this team, I think Arsenal will have greater defensive solidity and a greater attacking threat to bring more exciting football back to the Emirates stadium.
My starting XI: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Chambers, Tierney, Torreira, Guendouzi, Willock, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang.