The results of pre-season fixtures are usually a nonsense. Teams are at varying degrees of readiness, and players are usually absent because of post-international tournament recovery and holidaying. Teams usually experiment with players in different roles and with different formations: Arsenal, for example, played Tomas Rosicky as a false 9 in New York, a move which can safely be suggested will never happen in a real game. Towards the end of pre-season, though, is when matches take on a semblance of interest, with teams closer to the expected first XI playing for a longer period of time together. Thus, while the Community Shield victory over Manchester City shouldn't be taken as evidence for Arsenal's imminent destruction of all before them, it does show that Arsenal are getting closer to finding their best XI and style ahead of the new season.
While everyone was made aware of Manchester City's absentees, Arsenal were also missing three key players, in Theo Walcott, recovering from knee surgery, and Per Mertesacker and Mesut Özil, recovering from their World Cup exploits. Lukas Podolski was also absent, of course, with finger strain resulting from lots of picture taking. With Alexis Sánchez making his debut, Walcott's absence was mitigated, but missing Mertesacker and Özil forced the side to readjust a bit, especially Özil, who is crucial to Arsenal's attacking play. Instead of playing Santi Cazorla in the number ten role, or Tomas Rosicky, Arsene Wenger titled Arsenal's midfield triangle, deploying Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere ahead of Mikel Arteta in a 4-3-3.
If played correctly, it allows for Arsenal to have far more fluidity and variation in attack. Ramsey had more space to run into, while Wilshere could probe from deep, his preferred role. There was no set playmaker, though if one had to be assigned, it would be a shared role between Cazorla and Ramsey for their work in the final third. On the right hand side, Alexis came off the line either to stretch play or create himself. Meanwhile, with two midfielders ahead of him, Mikel Arteta was comfortable in his holding role, allowing Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs to advance from left back.
Arsenal played a similar system in the beginning of the 2009-10 season, with Alex Song holding between a midfield pairing of either Abou Diaby or Denilson alongside Cesc Fabregas. As the season progressed, Diaby became the clear favourite with Aaron Ramsey also starting a fair amount of games. Fabregas was the main creative player, of course, with the freedom to create from deep as well as moving up the pitch in support of Robin van Persie, with the other midfielder making runs from deep: Ramsey scored 4 times in limited playing time while Diaby scored 7 times in all competitions, while from wide Andrey Arshavin, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott all contributed heavily. Whether Arsenal use a similar system once Mesut Özil returns remains to be seen: while he can certainly create from a slightly deeper role and has been improving since his arrival at the club, it perhaps slightly takes away some of the freedom he has to drift into space, with a free role behind the main striker giving him the structure to have that freedom.
One change from last season will be the way Arsenal build play from goal kicks. The trend over the past three or four campaigns was to hit the goal kick towards Bacary Sagna, who invariably won the ball against his opposing left back. While Mathieu Debuchy is statistically as capable as Sagna in the air, he seems less so on viewing, and Wojciech Szczesny hit most of his goal kicks towards Yaya Sanogo and then Olivier Giroud, and he'll likely continue to do so as long as one of those two start, as they will with Theo Walcott missing for the opening month of the season. With Debuchy not up the pitch to win goal kicks, Arsenal's full backs have more variation. Certainly, Debuchy gets forward, as does Kieran Gibbs, but both now come forward in supporting roles. Bacary Sagna was at his best when he supported Arsenal's attacking play, and Debuchy's combination play with Alexis was promising.
Once Walcott returns, Arsène Wenger will have options: he can play Alexis through the middle, with Walcott and Cazorla wide, or Theo Walcott could play ahead of a creative three of Alexis, Özil and Cazorla, which would be necessary if Walcott were to play through the middle, as his hold up play is less than that of the other options. Olivier Giroud remains first choice but it would be no surprise to see Sanogo play more. Despite still not scoring in an official match, Sanogo no longer seems the joke that he was 9 months ago, and he offers a lot: the ability to hold play up and pass to on-coming runners, as he did on Sunday for Aaron Ramsey's goal and Alexis' chance, and the ability to run behind and stretch play.
The addition of Alexis, the development of Sanogo and the fitness of Wilshere means that Arsenal have lots of different options in attack, which should help the side improve on its goal-scoring record. Wenger feels that this is the best line-up of attacking options he's had in many years, and it's hard to disagree with him. There are still concerns over midfield and defensive depth that could harm the club's chances of winning the league, but if everyone is fit and available, Arsenal look as if they can compete with the very best in the Premier League and Europe.
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Alexis, Özil, Cazorla; Giroud
Key subs: Ospina, Chambers, Monreal, Wilshere, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanogo, Walcott