With just 48 hours to go till season kick-off against the Cottages, Arsenal have been dealt a mini-blow: apparently Luiz is injured and could be out for weeks. If this is true, it will provide Mikel with a challenge regarding both how to replace the Brazilian mastermind and how to set up the team. GN5 has produced a fine match preview which we will post tomorrow, but for now let’s have a quick look at Arteta’s options for replacing the curly-haired giant.
I cannot imagine Arteta starting with a backline of four against Fulham. I reckon the manager will stick to our tried and tested 3-4-3 formation and will use his fit and available second option for the central centre-back position, Holding, instead. When fully fit, Mari, could play there too, but for now Holding is the main man. This could mean a start for Big Sok – who apparently is on his way out so maybe not a good idea in case he gets injured – or the young and eager to start Saliba. Or is Chambers fit enough to start a game at a ground he knows very well?
Furthermore, Arteta needs to decide who to play on Holding’s left side and behind him. For continuity more than anything else Martinez is most likely to get the Spaniard’s nod. His LCB options are Tierney, Kola or new signing Gabriel. If Tierney starts as LCB then who will play as left wing back? Kola or Saka would be the obvious choice to make, but we also have AMN available to boss that wing. Holding will need a safe pair of hands and it does look that Tierney would be the strongest option. On the other hand, Gabriel may have played there anyway in Mikel’s plans, and why change it then?
With Luiz out, Xhaka really will have to play despite him having played two tough international games in the last nine days or so. The team – the spine – would lose too much structure without him in the side too. The final big question is who to play next to the Swiss maestro? Ceballos for thrust or Elneny for defensive strength? Or should AMN make what would be a surprise start there? I reckon it will be the young Spaniard to link up with Granit.
There is actually one more big question: will Willian start and who will ‘lose out’, Pepe or Laca? I have got a feeling it will be the latter, but then he can come on as a super-sub when we may need him most. Willian as a ‘false-9’ is my most daring guess, with him playing closer to the midfielders than the other two attackers for most of the game.
Taking it all into account, we may see Arteta start with the following 11 (if two options left sided player is my preference):
But what do you think will be Arteta’s starting 11 alongside the Thames on Saturday morning?