They say good things come to those who wait, and Arsenal have waited all summer long for fresh blood.
10 days ago as July was winding to a close and we were entering the last week of the transfer window, Arsenal had made just one first-team signing: the loan of Dani Ceballos. Things didn’t so much look bad as they did look utterly terrible. They had been linked with various players but nothing had come off; their squad was woefully short and Arsenal fans began to panic.
Then August began with a club record signing. Nicolas Pepe arrived. After him much humming and hawing as to whether a dazzling winger was something Arsenal needed (it was) when their defence was such a mess. Then club captain Laurent Koscielny left, club calamity Shkodran Mustafi didn’t, and Arsenal fans began to panic again.
Then in the last 24 hours of the transfer window the Gunners unloaded a broadside volley of cannon fire simultaneously into both top four rivals Manchester United and Chelsea. With United reticent to make attacking additions and Chelsea unable to sign anyone, Arsenal picked up David Luiz (from the Blues, amusingly enough) and Kieran Tierney from Celtic. Two defenders! Both for thoroughly reasonable fees! Arsenal fans started to strut.
But how could the Gunners line up with all their new talent? Let’s have a look!
The New Normal
Unai Emery likes 4-2-3-1. He’s always favoured the formation and the balance he feels it brings. At Arsenal he’s not always had a defence capable of running it effectively, well, until now. Bernd Leno will hope to continue his impressive form in goal. New man (and what a man!) David Luiz steps straight into the back-line alongside Sokratis into a defence that is potentially the most delightfully calamitous around.
However they’re also a great duo, excellent in the air and ruthless on the deck. David Luiz’s magnificent passing out from the back should also make a massive difference to Arsenal’s ability to start attacks from deep. That’s something their full-backs, Héctor Bellerin (when fit, Ainsley Maitland-Niles until then) and now Kieran Tierney will really benefit from.
Having Tierney is huge because it genuinely opens up the idea of a balanced back four. Sead Kolasinac is a freight train (and basically Daredevil, apparently) but he’s very definitely a wing-back. He struggles as a traditional left-back but that’s a role Tierney knows all too well. Having him and Bellerin, when they’re healthy, on either side of defence will give the Gunners great balance.
David Luiz has played more through balls (41) than any other player in the Premier League during the 2018-19 season.
He can't resist a Hollywood pass. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/gkeRaPL7ZP
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 7, 2019
Speaking of balance, Dani Ceballos could probably walk across a tightrope in football boots whilst FaceApping his facial recognition data away to Russia. This man is absolutely impeccable and even though it’s only a loan he should be a transformative signing. Arsenal could play him further forward but at the base of midfield his ability to evade the press with the ball at his feet should dovetail so well with David Luiz as Arsenal finally make the transition into being a modern football club. Dani Ceballos will run the show, and is a diligent enough defender that Granit Xhaka can simply hold midfield and ping laser-like passes forward.
No. 10 could be Ceballos or even Henrikh Mkhitaryan should Emery want a bit more movement in there, but the stage is finally, perfectly set for Mesut Ozil. Say what you want about him, he’s always created chances for team-mates. And now with a functioning midfield behind him as well as two rocket boosters either side, Ozil should finally be able to show the Premier League his true form.
Up-front Alexandre Lacazette will continue his campaign as the world’s least-appreciated striker. A superb blend of pressing, passing and finishing, Lacazette is the perfect striker. Selfish enough to score but selfless enough to set-up the two wing-wonders either side of him. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been on fire in pre-season so expect him to score a whole mess of goals this year.
Nicolas Pépé is the club’s record signing and whilst his goals will prove a huge boon, his dribbling ability is going to destabilise so many defences who try and sit deep to counter Arsenal’s running power. With Pépé and Ceballos around, teams will find it damn-near impossible to keep Arsenal from creating chances, and when you give Lacazette and Aubameyang chances… goals tend to follow. This XI is Arsenal’s new normal; a sleek and sophisticated side with a coherent vision, the kind Arsenal haven’t had in years. It’s a whole new world.
A Change of Pace
Of course just because Emery doesn’t have to play 3-5-2 (or 3-4-1-2) doesn’t mean that he won’t. It’s a handy alternative formation that could give Arsenal even more devastating potency in transition. This could end up being their formation of choice in big games as a result.
Leno in goal, obviously. Then you have David Luiz anchor the back three much as he did for Chelsea when they won the 2016/17 Premier League. Sokratis and Calum Chambers (who has been very impressive in pre-season) play either side of him to form a solid defence.
Speaking of solid, Arsenal’s Batman Sead Kolasinac returns to the line-up in this formation. Sure Kieran Tierney could play there, but Kolasinac offers a bit more going forward and in this formation that counts for me. On the right Héctor Bellerin or Ainsley Maitland-Niles would mirrors Kolasinac’s pace and drive, providing the width on the right.
In the middle Granit Xhaka takes a seat and Arsenal partner Dani Ceballos and Lucas Torreira. These two are utterly relentless in their pursuit of the ball and their movement both off and on it. They would be an absolute whirlwind in both defence and attack. Their forward runs would be an excellent foil for Mesut Ozil. Here found at the heart of this side, Ozil would be given freedom to roam wherever he wanted to in order to create chances in transition, and there’s plenty of examples of how good he is at that (look at the Gamper Trophy).
Up-top Aubameyang also retains his place but this time is partnered by Pépé for maximum pace in attack. This 3-4-1-2 would be devastating in motion as Arsenal could send bodies flying forward to truly disorient and destabilise opponents, leading to scoring chances galore.
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The Kids are Alright
Remember when Arsenal used to play the kids in all the cup games? Squawka remembers. And now they can do the same thing. Well, sort of. In the domestic cup early rounds and Europa League group stage the Gunners can keep their veterans fresh with some juicy squad rotation – putting out a thoroughly competitive team of players all under-25.
Matt Macey goes in goal. The giant Englishman is a product of Arsenal’s youth academy and, at just 24 would seize his first-team chance. The centre of defence sees Chambers (who incredibly is still only 24) anchor things next to last season’s revelation, 21-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos. The pair could form an incredibly solid pairing and the return of 23-year-old Rob Holding would give them options. Maitland-Niles gets the start at right-back as he is only 21-years-old, meanwhile new boy Tierney is just 22 so he will play on the left.
At the base of midfield Arsenal have once again got options. Lucas Torreira is just 23 so could stay as a starter. Ahead of him would be David Luiz’s hair-twin, 20-year-old Matteo Guendouzi (gotta keep the curly quota up!). The Frenchman has been so promising and his ability and enthusiasm would make him a quality option. Then Ceballos, who is only 24, completes the trio and plays a key role as the attacking playmaker for this particular XI. Arsenal could also turn to 19-year-old local lad Joe Willock to play in midfield too.
On the right Nicolas Pépé is back again. The Frenchman is 24 so young enough for this list and would be the star man and goal-getter here (with no Aubameyang he’d get back on penalty duty too). On the left Arsenal could use Alex Iwobi if he isn’t sold, but if he is (or even if he isn’t) Reiss Nelson is an irresistible prospect. He’s 19, so younger than 23-year-old Iwobi, but has a spark of sheer magic in his boots.
Then in attack with 20-year-old Eddie Nketiah off to be educated by Marcelo Bielsa in Leeds, it’s up to new signing, the 19-year-old Gabriel Martinelli to lead the line. The Brazilian has looked promising in pre-season and should get loads of chances with Pépé and Ceballos drawing all the attention and defensive coverage.