As Arsenal head into the second international break of the season it’s a great time to take stock of the team. With over a fifth of the season is complete we already have a fairly good idea of the players Unai Emery prefers.
Below is a breakdown of three starting XIs - the first squad, the backups and then an all-Academy team from the U23s. As with any starting lineup there will be personnel preference and even a few players listed on the senior squad miss the cut.
For the most part Emery has operated with a 4-2-3-1, with the #10 sometimes being a more defensive minded midfielder, making it seem like a 4-3-3. For the sake of this exercise I’ve gone with 4-2-3-1.
- Yes, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is out of position. And someone who has scored eight goals already this season should be played in their primary position. But Alexandre Lacazette is clearly in an Arsenal Best XI and Aubameyang can adapt to the wide attacking role more easily than Lacazette.
- There was a time when Ozil was clearly in the starting XI, or even an ideal XI. But the Emery/Ozil rift has gone on long enough now that it’s best to assume Ozil will have a limited role at Arsenal while Emery is in charge. Thus I’ve moved Ceballos into the 10 spot. A player who is loving his move to London thus far.
- Many people won’t want to see Granit Xhaka’s name in the starting XI. But he is the club captain and Emery clearly trusts him. He has the ability to be a quality player for Arsenal, but is in a bad run of form lately, and likely low on confidence due do his treatment from the fans (see: Mustafi). The players seem to believe in him, so Arsenal have to find a way to return him to form.
- The backline is projecting the future a bit, rather than this exact moment. Clearly, Bellerin and Tierney are the fullbacks, but Rob Holding should return to the starting XI in due time.
- Which leaves the question of who partners with Holding - Sokratis or David Luiz? I could see Emery favoring either based on his preference of experience. I went with Sokratis in this case given he has more time with Emery and in the Arsenal lineup.
Second XI (The Backups)
- Very exciting, attacking young front three, but little experience. All of them seem to welcome their new roles thus far and are excellent energy options from the bench or in rotation for Europa and Cup matches.
- If Ozil is loaned, sold, or completely frozen out, I’d move Emile Smith Rowe into the backup #10 spot.
- David Luiz and Calum Chambers would be the next two CBs in line, but that then leaves Shkodran Mustafi and Konstantinos Mavropanos completely out of this scenario. While Mavropanos has featured for the U23s in his return from injury, he is past the point of being able to be considered an academy prospect.
The Academy XI
- Smith Rowe is technically a senior team player. However, he has appeared a few times for U23s this season and likely will continue to get time there even once he is at full health.
- Folarin Balogun has flourished this year with the U23s, and forms a talented attacking trio with Tyreece John-Jules and Trae Coyle.
- Robbie Burton is a name Arsenal fans will be familiar with from the preseason tour, but Nathan Tormey is a player to watch out for. Tormey has featured as a center-mid, wide attacker, and a number ten already this season.
- The final name to highlight is Harry Clarke. Arsenal are full on centerbacks and defensive midfielders at the moment, but it never hurts to have more prospects in the pipeline. The 18-year-old has played at centerback in all six matches for the U23s this season alongside Holding, Mavropanos and fellow Academy players. He didn’t look out of place in a partnership with either of the senior players. Keep an eye on him to get a loan next season if he continues to improve and the senior team is full on CBs.
So there you have it, 33 Arsenal players in the three-deep depth chart. Mustafi and Mavro miss the cut, but otherwise all the senior players seem to fall into place nicely.
Now it’s your turn. What adjustments do you see to one of those lineups? Is there another player you think is first in the depth chart or a different Academy prospect you would sub into that final XI? Let us know in the comment section below.