Arsenal will look to continue their 1 game unbeaten run in the Premier League this weekend against Burnley.
Having beaten Newcastle 1-0 at St James’ Park, Unai Emery has a bit of a selection headache.
Does he stick with the players who defended well, but created little for the match against Burnley; or does he bring in some of the fit again senior pro’s, including a couple of new signings.
Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, Matteo Guendouzi and Calum Chambers all performed well against Newcastle and probably do not deserve to be dropped. However Emery will know how important it is to play the best team available, even if it ruffles a few feathers.
David Luiz sat patiently on the bench against Newcastle following his deadline day arrival. He had a full pre-season with Chelsea and is ready to play. Will Emery pick Luiz over Chambers or Sokratis? My bet is Emery might just reward Sokratis and Chambers with a fine 1st display and keep the pair in defence.
With Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac all out for one reason or another, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal will be the full backs.
Moving to the middle of the park, the axis of Granit Xhaka and Guendouzi provided good cover for the defence. But at home against an average side, do we need to play 2 defensive midfielders? Could Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos come in for one? Giving the side a more creative option for deep.
And what for Lucas Torreira?
The Uruguayan midfielder played next to no part in pre-season (just 4 minutes against Barcelona) due to only returning to training on 1st August after the summers Copa America. Taking into account Xhaka and Guendouzi played a full part, I would not expect him to start against Burnley – he did not even get off the bench against Newcastle.
If Arsenal are winning comfortably, I expect Torreira to come off the bench and be given 20 minutes as he regains full match fitness.
That leaves Xhaka, Guendouzi and Ceballos fighting it out for the central midfield positions.
I actually think we might see all 3 start, with Ceballos replacing Joe Willock as creator in chief.
Willock had an OK game against Newcastle, but his performance is more remembered for a tackle than anything he created. He is a hard working talented footballer and I see his career actually being a little deeper than playing Number 10.
At home against Burnley we do not have to worry as much defensively, so it might be a better option to play the more attack minded Ceballos with Willock relegated to the bench.
On the wings, record signing Nicolas Pepe looked fairly sharp on Sunday despite only recently returning to training following playing in the African Cup of Nations and the stress of his big move.
Games like Liverpool away is why Pepe was bought. His pace and power key on the break. For that reason I expect him to start against Burnley on the right hand side, replacing Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Pepe to be substituted off on 60 minutes will be a bank bet if he starts.
The left wing is an interesting conundrum.
Nelson had a solid game against Burnley and you also have the aforementioned Mkhitaryan. Alexandre Lacazette is also available which gives Emery the option of playing Aubameyang wide left.
With one eye on that Liverpool game, I have a hunch that Emery might plumb for Lacazette up top and Aubameyang on the left. That will give 60 minutes to his 1st choice front 3 – Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe.
It might be harsh on Willock and Nelson, but football is not a business of compassion. We ned to play the best team we can. That means an exciting front 4 of Ceballos, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.
Expect Willock and Nelson to come off the bench (if we are not chasing the game) as well as Lucas Torreira.
It is exciting to actually have so many options.
Expected starting XI:
AMN Chambers Sokratis Monreal
Pepe Ceballos Aubameyang
Similar to my thoughts but I would play Willock and drop Guendouzi who although is energetic can be wasteful and plays too many safe balls after running in to a blind alley. Willock I believe will be the better player as they both mature and he should he given the same playing time opportunity as Guendouzi got last season.
I like that option. Especially as Willock is a little more attacking than Guendouzi. Could play Xhaka (if fit) holding on his own with Willock the license to push forward
Willock for Xhaka and Pepe for Miki