It is hard to believe that among all of the chaos currently surrounding our world, the Premier League is set to kick off in less than 10 days. A proverbial lifetime has passed since the last match, and while many of us have slaked our thirst for live soccer action with Bundesliga matches, we all know that nothing compares to the sweet ambrosia of the EPL.
Arsenal have been preparing for the return to league play and recently played a friendly match against Championship side Charlton Athletic which saw the Gunners thrash their competitors 6-0. Laca, Auba, and Eddie all found the net, while Joe Willock rounded out the scoring. As the kids say, you love to see it.
In case you haven’t watched the highlights for the 15th time today, here you go:
So while teams across the EPL are playing tune-up matches, it suffices to say that the restart has an almost “new season” feel about it. With empty stadiums, five subs per match, and a condensed fixture list awaiting, nothing about the restart feels normal. However, there are still ten matches left to play before the season officially ends, and as Arsenal continue to chase a Champions League spot, they cannot afford to play like it is the beginning of a season.
One of the benefits, if you can call it that, of the layoff has been that players have had a chance to rest, recuperate, and return to fitness. The injury list is as short as it has been all season, with only Calum Chambers out for the season and Lucas Torreira nearly at match fitness following his ankle break. Cedric Soares, as far as I know, is not an actual person but a myth.
There is not much time left for Arsenal to salvage its season, but there is plenty of time left for certain players to raise their stock. The restart could prove a vital time for several players to make a name for themselves and give Mikel Arteta some food for thought. Three players in particular come to mind as those who have the most to gain following the layoff.
Dani Ceballos joined Arsenal in the summer on loan from Real Madrid, and he made a quick impact with an early dazzler at Burnley. While the majority of his performances have not been quite to that level, the prospect of him finding that form again is worth investing in. He is benefitted by not having a ton to lose by proxy of being on loan. Should he play well and Arsenal want to sign him permanently, he has leverage. If not, he returns to Real Madrid, which isn’t all that bad of a landing spot for a player in the grand scheme of things.
The midfield is replete with holding and defensive mids, but lacks a wealth dynamic playmakers. Ceballos’ skill set is unique and puts him into a spot where he can play either the 8 or the 10, currently positions of need for the Gunners. He plays with a relentless energy, and with Arteta wanting to install a more press-heavy tactical approach, a high motor is going to be a huge asset. He could very well see a considerable amount of playing time with the upcoming congested fixture list.
This might be a stretch regarding how much he has to gain, but I will say this - I absolutely love Ceballos’ passion. He celebrates every goal like he scored it, on or off the pitch. Teams need players like that to lift them up and motivate them, and coming off such an enormous hiatus only to play in empty stadiums means motivation will be more important than ever.
I’ll get this out of the way early - I don’t think Mustafi is an awful defender. In all honesty, I think he’s actually kind of...good? Sure, the gaffes and errors stick out in our minds like sore thumbs, but let us not forget that, at one point in his career, he was a member of Germany’s World Cup winning side. His quality is probably not the level Arsenal need to ascend back into soccer’s upper echelon, but as Aaron Lerner mentioned during a recent TSF Zoom chat, he is often left high and dry by poor midfield play in front of him and unfairly scapegoated for Arsenal’s poor performances.
This might come as a shock, but Arsenal’s center back situation is pretty rough. David Luiz and Sokratis are both old and getting older with expiring contracts, Pablo Mari is still an unknown, Calum Chambers is recovering from an ACL tear, and Rob Holding hasn’t been the same since returning from his own. And there has been Mustafi, old faithful, managing to avoid major injury chaos and contract issues. He has been criticized tremendously by fans and pundits, but has nary said a sideways comment about it all.
Much like Granit Xhaka, Mustafi has enjoyed something of a renaissance under Mikel Arteta. After being all but written off by the winter window, he has shown a promising return to form. Under Unai Emery this season, he did not feature in a league match until Emery’s last match as Arsenal’s manager, the 2-2 draw at home to Southampton. Since then, he has featured in 9 of 15 league matches with only one loss to his name. If he can continue to contribute at that rate, he might see himself regain a more permanent spot in Arsenal’s defense.
Behind maybe only Nicolas Pepe, no summer transfer was met with more anticipation than Kieran Tierney. The young Scottish fullback looked poised to become the attacking left back to complement Hector Bellerin on the right. Visions of perfectly placed crosses danced in our heads, but sadly, that has not come to fruition yet. Tierney started his tenure at Arsenal recovering from a surgery before breaking into the side only to suffer a shoulder injury that required surgery and a lengthy recovery.
Something something Arsenal DNA something.
Thankfully, Tierney is back to match fitness, as he featured in Arsenal’s friendly, looking sharp in the process. We have far from seen Tierney’s best, which makes his reintroduction to the squad so vital. Sead Kolasinac has not been awful at left back, but his deficiencies as a defender are noticeable, and while young Bukayo Saka has been a revelation, he is not a natural defender. Tierney’s ability to play stout defense while contributing to the attack will elevate a team that was beginning to show potential under Arteta before the pandemic.
All things told, Tierney by far has the most to gain from the layoff. Injuries robbed him of a chance to fully adapt to the Premier League, and now he has a prime opportunity to remind fans and pundits alike why he was so highly sought after in the summer.
What are your thoughts? Who else do you think has the chance to make a name for themselves following the hiatus? Let us hear it in the comments.