I know it’s been a slow news week so you are eager to get straight into the Arsenal predicted XI for Sunday’s clash against a surprising Aston Villa. But first lets acknowledge what Mikel Arteta and the squad have accomplished so far. The Gunners may still be 10th in a tight Premier League, but they have the best defense, allowing just seven goals from seven matches.
In fact, Arsenal have only given up more than one goal once this year - away to Liverpool. Add in that the team kept its perfect Europa League start with a 4-1 win and now sit as clear leaders in Group B, and it’s been a solid start to what is a crammed and odd season.
Meanwhile Aston Villa has went from barely surviving the drop last year to one of the unexpected teams in the top half. Villa are 9th in the league despite having played one match fewer. They had big wins over Liverpool and Leicester City (two sides Arsenal lost to), but have since dropped matches against Leeds United and Southampton. So what wins out on Sunday, Arsenal’s much-improved defense or Aston Villa’s attack?
Predicted Starting XI
- Nicolas Pepe
- Granit Xhaka
- Eddie Nketiah
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles
- Shkodran Mustafi
- Dani Ceballos
- Alex Runarsson
Notes on the XI:
- Left Out: Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Sead Kolasinac, Cedric Soares, David Luiz & William Saliba
- Injured: Pablo Mari, Gabriel Martinelli & Calum Chambers.
- Last week’s win over Manchester United at Old Trafford was important. Regardless of the state of United at the moment, or for the past few years, getting a win there is a notable step in the right direction for Arteta and the players. As such, I wouldn’t expect a ton of changes from last weekend.
- The Europa League squad has been working out well - Nketiah, Pepe, Willock, and Maitland-Niles - with Arteta being able to use the increased substitutions to manage everyone’s minutes. In fact I’ve got the exact same 11 that the manager started against United. A few toss-ups remain:
- Up front it’s likely that Willian still starts considering he came off early Thursday and Pepe played the full 90. Even though Pepe is now tied with Aubameyang in goals+assists with five each, which leads the team. Arteta has spoken that be wants Pepe to be more consistent in all aspects of his game before he has more Premier League starts. Lacazette continues to do solid work up top, even if not fully recognized by all. Mikel understands his importance to the way the team is currently set up, and he will be key to Arsenal’s success this year.
- In midfield how can you not start Saka - Elneny - Partey - Bellerin? Unless Saka shifts to the front line for Willian, it’s hard to make a case that Xhaka or Ceballos start on Sunday. Willock has looked great in the Europa League, but it seems as though Arteta views that competition and the Cups are where he will get his chance to shine this season.
- In the back the question is whether he sticks with Holding after last week or goes with Mustafi or Luiz, both who started and played the full match on Thursday.
- The bench is tough, plus the fact that Arsenal’s injury list dwindling. Not all of Xhaka, Ceballos and Willock can make it. Neither can Holding, Mustafi and Luiz all make the 18. It’s the preferable set of problems compared to the recent forced CB pairing of Xhaka and Kolasinac.
How to watch
Sunday (11/8) at 2:15 pm ET / 11:15 am PT on Peacock Premium.