Heading into the first game of the Premier League season, Mikel Arteta seems to have one less dilemma to solve – the one which has haunted him all summer.
Following interest from Aston Villa and Brighton, as revealed by football.london on Friday [September 11], the 28-year-old is not expected to travel with the squad to Craven Cottage. As a result, Bernd Leno will take the starting spot to build on an impressive 2019/20 campaign.
Fresh injuries to David Luiz and Sokratis may cause speculation as to whether the side will continue with a back three, but seeing as it’s the system that has been used most in pre-season, veering away from that may come further down the line.
As a result, William Saliba will slot in on the right side, Rob Holding will take the central role and Kieran Tierney will keep his place as the left-sided centre-back. Anticipation may be high for a Gabriel Magalhaes debut but Arteta is aware of the challenges both he and Saliba will face and in need of points early, he may opt for Tierney as the more trusted option.
“I think it’s going to take him some time to adapt to our way of playing but as well to get adapted to the language, the rhythm, the physicality of the country,” Arteta said on Saliba and Gabriel.
“As well we have to bear in mind that he didn’t play much football last season with all the injuries he had. So, I think it will be a process that we have to be patient, picking the right games with the right environment and trying to grow because he has a really good potential.
“Everyone was saying that we had too many central defenders and it’s a funny case right now that it’s the position we are short at the moment with all the injuries. But I’m hopeful in the next few weeks that situation will resolve and we’ll be in a stronger position.”
With Tierney at centre-back, Ainsley Maitland-Niles will return as the left wing-back. The 23-year-old excelled there in the FA Cup semi-final and final as well as in the Community Shield win over Liverpool in which he produced a man of the match display.
Hector Bellerin will stay at right wing-back whereas Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka will resume their midfield partnership which became the foundation of Arsenal’s success after the February winter break.
Hoping not to ‘burn out’ Bukayo Saka this season, Nicolas Pepe will start off the right but Saka will be likely to come off the bench. As the striker in form, Eddie Nketiah will lead the line with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang taking his regular role off the left.
Art de Roche’s predicted XI: Leno, Saliba, Holding, Tierney, Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles, Pepe, Nketiah, Aubameyang.