Arsenal play this coming Friday, a mere 47 days after their final fixture of the 2021-22 campaign. The next campaign, starting earlier because of the mid-season World Cup, is only a month away, with Arsenal playing Crystal Palace on August 5. So while pre-season is still just pre-season, there are some questions that warm-up matches can some way to answering.
Who is Arsenal’s left #8?
Over the course of last season, Arsenal’s system shifted. Having started in a fairly standard 4-2-3-1, Mikel Arteta began utilizing Thomas Partey as a single pivot, pushing the other member of the double pivot further up the pitch, in a more traditional #8 role. For much of the campaign, that role fell to Granit Xhaka, who did his best in a role that he is clearly not the most comfortable in, because he is a #6, not a #8. While Arsenal can get away with it, it’s clearly an area where there can be improvement. Arsenal were linked with Youri Tielemans earlier this summer, but that has gone on the backburner. Yet with Xhaka still on holiday, following his international exertions for Switzerland, there could be an intriguing internal solution to #8—be it Emile Smith Rowe, new signing Fabio Vieira, or someone like Albert Sambi Lokonga.
What role is there for William Saliba?
William Saliba is due to return to Arsenal this season after a successful loan at Marseille. Of course, whether Saliba is actually wanted by Mikel Arteta has been a long-running theme over the last 18 months, especially as Arsenal bought Ben White last summer. Arsenal’s pre-season will be a good time to evaluate how Saliba is seen by Arteta, both in where he plays across the back four, and who he is partnered with. If, for example, Saliba is partnered with either Gabriel Magalhães or White, then it’s probably an indication that Saliba is very much within Arteta’s thoughts. If he’s partnered with someone else, or put at right back, then that could be a clue that Saliba is not anywhere near Arsenal’s priority.
Which young player catches the eye?
Arsenal have a number of players who have been on the first team bench but have not yet played for the Arsenal first team. Omari Hutchinson, Salah Oulah M’Hand, and Marcelo Flores are all players who U-23 watchers are familiar with, while Charlie Patino and Miguel Azeez have both made brief cameos for Arsenal, and Folarin Balogun has come back from a loan spell. Some of these players will need to go out on loan, but with Arsenal back in the Europa League group stage, there is game time to offer younger players that wasn’t there last season. In addition, the third round of the Carabao Cup, where Arsenal will enter, is fairly close to the beginning of the World Cup, and the fourth round of the Carabao Cup will be immediately after, right before the Boxing Day fixtures. It’d make sense to utilize younger players for those fixtures. Finally, with five subs, there is more opportunity to give the end of the bench game time. Impressing in pre-season, then, could be a ticket to getting meaningful first team mintues.