Arsenal kicks off the 2016-17 season against Liverpool on Sunday, August 14 (at 11 am ET). That’s in 26 days, and the team’s missing several key players headed into that Opening Day match. For some, it’s the result of deep runs into the Euros (namely, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, and Laurent Koscielny), and for Alexis, it’s the combination of winning another Copa America and nursing the injured ankle that was an unfortunate by-product of the Copa America.
So, today’s question has us looking at the probable Opening Day lineup against an intriguing, possibly really good Liverpool squad, and asking:
Opening Day is less than a month away, and it seems that several key players may not be healthy or rested enough to face Liverpool. How concerned are you about this?
In a word: Not terribly. Okay, in two words. Look, I mean, I get it: some great players who are key to Arsenal's success will not be there, and that sucks. But if it were a game in February where people like Giroud, Xhaka, Ramsey, Sanchez, and Özil weren't playing, people would shrug their shoulders, assume a loss, and be pleasantly surprised when Arsenal managed to scrape an ugly draw. Fans of all sports tend to overemphasize results on their sport's opening day. A loss is never great, don't get me wrong, but a loss on opening day is no worse than that aforementioned loss in February - it's just more visible because it's the first game of the season. For all my criticisms of Arsene Wenger's recent tenure, I fully support his program of giving players who play deep into summer tournaments a month or so off - he doesn't want to grind his players into dust, and in many cases, by the end of this season, the players being rested will have been playing non-stop since August of 2015.
Because of that, I worry a lot about the end of the 2016/17 season, stamina- and fitness-wise; I think it's smart to conserve players at the beginning of the season, to keep them as fit as possible throughout the rigors of a really long Premier League, Champions League, and two domestic cup campaign. So I'm OK with them missing game one - and two, in many cases - of what is probably going to be a sixty-game season.
At this point, I'm not too concerned. Sure, I'd love to have Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, and Laurent Koscielny ready to go day one. Those are key players, no question about it. However, the season is long and they will miss games. Players like Per Mertesacker, Gabriel, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, and Theo Walcott have played a lot for the club. This is a pivotal year in the Arsenal career of each of them. They will be highly motivated to make the most of their opportunity. It seems very likely that new signing Granit Xhaka, Elneny, Cazorla, and Jack will feature in the opener which should allow for more team control of the ball than we've had since Mikel Arteta had functioning legs.
The most positive sign is that we will have a mostly first-team back five (and to be honest Per+Gabriel is probably a better fit/partnership than Kos+Gab), the majority of which has been fully rested throughout the summer.If we can't expect guys like Cazorla, Wilshere, Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, or Walcott to create the chances requisite to get the club a home result against what was a middle of the pack Premier League defense last season, we're in for a lot of trouble. I think the talent and motivation is there. If we expect to contend for a title, we have to expect those fringe first-team players to be capable to get results. We all know they'll be the starting XI come the Annual December Injury Outbreak so we might as well blood them early.
Pretty concerned. The defense and central midfield should be able to cope but the attack missing Ozil, Giroud and Alexis is going to rely on the likes of Santi, Iwobi, Wilshere and Theo. Fine depth players but not ones I'd pit against Liverpool and certainly not all at once. You'd hope they'd be professionals and fill in like they're supposed to but that's a pretty big dropoff and one which would lead me to think Arsenal will play to sneak a goal and defend for 90 minutes. Hoping I'm wrong but I'm not super optimistic.
I wouldn't use the word concerned, but I'm not happy. (Maybe that's worse). If I were Wenger, I'd do the same thing that he is doing, but I still think there is something weird when a club that pays players effectively can't use them after tournaments like this. I find it irritating. Three points now is the same as three points later in the season, as PDB rightly points out, but I'd rather not have to take a loss or draw early in the year, as I think that it DOES have some effect psychologically later on. But there is no doubt that these guys need a rest.
I’m going to the MLS All-Star Game next week, and so my immediate concern is about the squad depth for that. (I know it’s a glorified exhibition game, but all my favorite Arsenal players won’t be there, and that’s a bummer, but it’s a bummer that comes with having Arsenal players figure significantly into their international teams.) My concerns over the start-of-season lineup (despite my anticipation in seeing how Xhaka will figure into the action) is mitigated by the belief that maybe, just maybe, the Opening Day lineup will be bolstered by an Icardi, Lacazette, or Mahrez—or maybe even, at the risk of sounding greedy, some combination of the three. While Opening Day is merely 1/38th of the season, and we’ve survived bad Opening Days before (cough Aston Villa 2013 cough), I think the game does have a tone-setting importance that gives it an extra little bit of significance. I also have this lingering dread that the first part of 16-17 will reintroduce me to Yaya Sanogo.