Arsenal Preview/ Line-up: Proper wingers, XhaElneny in Midfield, three or four at the back?

Nuno and his magnificent Wolves are coming to the Home of Football and what a game it will be. As a Dutchman I have a great dislike of the Portuguese way of playing football (in general): Oranje have lost more against the Portugal national team than any other nation. They sit back and absorb all pressure to then spring the deadliest counters and the Dutch fall for it every time. When Man City were beaten by Mourinho’s ‘Portuguese’ boys last week, it was so reminiscent of the way the Dutch used to get defeated by ‘them’. And of course we know that Arsene’s Arsenal succumbed to the same faith so many times when playing a JM team.

The beauty of Nuno’s Wolves, however, is that they play a more attacking kind of football without giving up on their strong defensive shape. They position really well and pass the ball round with a plan from out of the back, and with precision and a keen intent to get it forward. It is easy on the eye, unlike anything Mourinho comes up with. I have asked myself a few times whether Arsenal should set themselves up in a similar way with the added benefit that we have more money to both keep hold of our best players and buy the better players to make this system really work. I am still not sure whether the MC and Pool models of pushing the opponents into their own half and dominate possession with tons of passes and triangles is the way forward for us, or indeed top football teams in this decade. A change might be in the air.

Wolves' Nuno Espirito Santo and Arsenal's Mikel Arteta

Arteta is rebuilding the way we play and he will need to set up the team carefully as to not suffer a similar fate as against the Villains or Foxes earlier this season. The team news is: Elneny is available but Kola is not; Willian is available but Partey is not.

Wolves have managed three draws in a row at Ashburton Grove recently, and once again this will not be easy. Yet I have a feeling Arsenal are ready to push on and this is just the sort of game the team needs to make a good start of the ten games that lay ahead between now and the end of the year.

I would like us to line up 3-4-3 as to incorporate Luiz in defence who is too exposed in a 4-3-3 set up. We need his organisational and leadership skills, plus he does that ball over the top really well. The full backs are clearly Tierney and Bels at the moment even though the latter remains unconvincing in defence at times. The centre of midfield are likely to be Xhaka and Elneny.

Up-front we have options. Saka is fit again, Auba will play, Willian is fit, Nelson had a strong game, Pepe is suspended and Laca could well be fired up after a disappointing game v Molde. Eddie and Balogun may also be in contention.

My preferred, and half expected, line up is (replace Partey by Elneny):

Alternatively, IF Arteta goes for a 4-3-3 formation (not wise against a ‘Portuguese’ team imho), we could see something like this (once again, Partey is replaced by Elneny):

It is a long wait till Sunday evening but it will be worth it.

Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners!

By TotalArsenal.

49 thoughts on “Arsenal Preview/ Line-up: Proper wingers, XhaElneny in Midfield, three or four at the back?

  • All good on your choices T, I’d make most of the decisions based on stronger fitness.
    ……I hope we can start enjoying league matches the same way we do the Europa group matches. We all love to see the youth players, and experimental lineups, out of curiosity, and because we have fared better there. We have to be honest and consider the level of competition, but I think we’re about to break out with our best eleven in the league, scoring and winning.

  • Cheers J. There is a way to go we all agree, but the UL games have given Arteta a good insight on where the youngsters are and they are strengthening his team options. The PL is much tougher at this stage and the lack of patience means that Arteta is having to act carefully. But let’s see how the next 10 games will go.

  • I can’t help feeling that today and next Thursday are dress rehearsals for the battle of the Toilet Bowl next weekend.

    What you was writing about Portuguese managers/teams I couldn’t help think also at how many times English teams have come unstuck against a nation that punches well above its weight.
    I think the last time England beat Portugal in a meaningful international was probably 1966.

    And Arsenal have a very mixed history vs Portuguese teams and managers, I still can’t work out even now how Arsenal after drawing in the Stadium of Light and leading 1-0 in the 2nd leg of our European Cup tie of 1991/92 somehow managed to lose 1-3 to Benfica at Highbury!

    And then we have Mourinho, even when you think you have him by the throat, he wriggles free and then they take a draw or steal the win.

    Last season Kolasinac played a dumbass pass that set us on the way to defeat at Wembley, that’s what they do, they wait for you to mess up…

    Traore is a bit of a threat and I’d like to see Maitland Niles go man to man with him?

    I’d save Saka, give him 30 minutes on Thursday then unleash him on the Spuds.

  • Cheers Kev. I reckon Tierney and Gabro will have Traore sorted, but yes he is a threat. We must play Bukayo and not think about the swamp dwellers at all imo. OGAAT my friend and Wolves will be a tough, tough game.

    Fully agreed on Mourinho’s ability to punish a bad moment and escape our grip time and again. But that is for next week 🤩

  • Well, it is Sunday already and the wait is over, TA. I like the (2nd) predicted line up and feel it will be Elneny and Xhaka to start while, as it is Arteta’s way to get Willian back in form, Willian should start in the front 3.

    With the strength and (passing) intelligence of the Wolves midfield and forward men, Elneny has to be at his positional best to nullify that danger; I expect Gabriel and Luis to keep a close eye on Jimenez. Between Gabriel and Tierney, Adama Traore can be largely contained.

    It is a shame we cannot have Partey in this one (secretly wish he is a surprise inclusion) but there will be many more games and he shouldn’t be risked if unfit.

    Looking forward to a good game and the win for the good guys.

  • Oh, and I was looking at a back three in my thoughts about the line up, above.

    Just saw other comments; I agree with TA. No reason to rest Saka for a game that’s a week away. He builds confidence each game he plays and will be raring to go against the Spuds. We should have as many of our academy grads as we can manage in starting 11. They understand what it means to the fans and will give a bit more. Nelson, Saka, Bellerin and AMN; Nketiah to come on late…..anyway we can squeeze them all in.

  • I fancy both line-ups, but I don’t expect Willock to start.
    He was out of his depth against Leeds, and – albeit playing well in Norway – he managed to crash his car yesterday, so he should sit this one out.
    We might see Ceballos playing today (maybe from the starting XI), but I can imagine the 4-3-3 with the midfield consisting of 3 out of Partey/xhaka/Ceballos/Saka and Willian + Nelson cover the wings around Auba.
    And I wouldn’t be in shock if Mustafi plays in a back-4 next to Gabriel…

  • The little bit at the beginning on the Dutch and Arsene’s teams being constantly bested by counter attacking teams feels like a modern day parable taught to young, aspiring coaches to not be naive 🙂

    Great preview and lineups TA! I’m a bit more inclined to continue with a back four formation so the the lads start developing their chemistry, spacing and patterns of play. Even though the principles are relatively the same in Arteta’s set ups, I’d imagine that constant formation changes would be to the detriment of our progression.

    My preferred lineup would be:


    I’d have Willian and Elneny on the bench, as they just returned to training this Friday and may lack some fitness. Also hoping that Arteta rewards Reiss for his EL performance. If Willian is to start, I’d hope he gets a shot at CAM opposed to wing.

  • PB, even though Willock didn’t have his best game vs Leeds, he needs a run of games before we decide whether he’s ready or not. No one is currently on form, which doesn’t help a player like Joe. The spacing was dreadful against Leeds, as Ceballos and Xhaka were playing too close to one another (as though it was a 3-4-3) and were occupying the same spaces/zones. The car crash you mentioned was before training leading up to the Leeds match.

    We’re still transitioning through playing as a team with a back four in the league, which is why it’s not pretty right now. I think our midfield really needs a player with Joe’s ability to make runs into the box and connect play between the defense and attack.

  • Not much Arsenal interest in today’s FACup ties except perhaps the return from a long injury of Tyreece John Jules on the bench for Doncaster Rovers.

  • Thanks TA! We certainly require Luiz’s passing for us to expand the pitch and to use the space between and behind the Wolves lines. 3-5-2 for me.

    Have to chuckle HH about the spacing being horrible vs Leeds. Everyone’s spacing is horrible vs Leeds– it’s what they do! Their match vs Everton yesterday was just a wild one to watch for it to have been a 1-0 final. Do enjoy watching them. Brilliant coordination, with everyone (but Meslier!) involved in attack.

    Wolves have not been scoring as prolifically this season– with Diego Jota moving to Pool. The last time we played Wolves (2-0 in July with Saka and Laca netting)– Nuno moved Traore up front with Raul Jimenez. He just never seemed comfortable without space in front of him to maneuver. That was the match where Traore shot from distance early– in the first minute– and Martinez handled it well. It was Wolves only shot on target all game. If Arteta goes with a 3-5-2? It’ll be Tierney-Gabriel-Luiz to accommodate AMN on the left at WB– to help manage Adama Traore.

    All that said– it might behoove the attack to try the strategy we used vs Chelsea in the FA Cup final. In overloading the left with Tierney-AMN-Auba and finding either of the latter over the top with Tierney and Luiz long ball passing.

    Go Gunners!


  • JW, agreed on the strategy for attacking down the left. Both Traore and Semedo are very susceptible at defending and that flank has not been tested enough by other teams.

  • HH, I won’t mind giving Willock further chances. I just predict Arteta playing safer thus changing only 1 player at a time from his ideal line-up (apart from injuries). And this should be Nelson’s night; partly as a reward and partly as Pepe is suspended. But my primary argument was Joe having an accident yesterday (no other cars or bodily injuries involved), therfore it could be a liability playing him in such a state of mind. I might very well be wrong, but after Ozil and Kolasinac were attacked last summer they weren’t playing for more than a month. (However you would never know the real reasons behind benching Ozil nowadays…)

    Guy, have you seen Southampton leading MU at half time by 2:0? And they dominate ball possession too, against a Fernandes – van de Beek – Fred – Matic midfield. That looks like another nail in Solskjaer’s coffin; I hope I’m not jinxing it though.

  • Excellent footie comments, guys. All suggested formations have merit and let’s see what Mikel will do.

    A shame Southampton did throw it all away, and we know whom to blame 🙄🤣

  • Hahahaha! PB jinxed it, alright. Anyone hear nothing about Tierney being ill? Hope it’s just a rumour.

    Mourinho is slugging it out with his one time player/protege with fat frank edging it a bit this second half. Let me keep my peace so I don’t jinx it here too.

  • Team sheet is out. It looks a 4-2-3-1, with David Luis and Gabrielle as CB. Bellerin and Tierney at full back. Xhaka, Ceballos; Willock in the midfield. Willian, Saka and Auba.

  • It seems, today’s formation is either 3-4-2-1 or 4-3-3, but the line-up is public:



  • Looks like the latter to me, PB.

    Good line up. Rather have Elneny for Ceballos but at least Joe is playing. Question is whether Joe or Ceballos will play in the hole.. 👍🏿

  • Full teams and subs:

    Leno, Bellerin, Gabriel, Luiz, Tierney, Xhaka, Ceballos, Willock, Willian, Saka, Aubameyang

    Subs: Runarsson, Cedric, Holding, Elneny, Nelson, Lacazette, Nketiah

    Patricio, Boly, Coady, Marcal, Semedo, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Neto, Traore, Jimenez, Podence

    Subs: Ruddy, Jana-Hoever, Ait-Nouri, Neves, Silva, Vitinha, Kilman.

  • I’m guessing Willock more advanced. It’s the position where he’s looked best, and Dani is a good midfield and defensive battler I think.

    On the spuds-Chavs game …… Chelsea have a strong team, all Mourinhos experience earned him a point. But Chelsea have a really deep squad from big spending and some youth prospects, which they previously spent on, of course. RB James is impressive, Ziyech looks very good too. Their scouts do a good job.
    To have Pulisic and Giroud to bring on late is a luxury. Olivier didnt want to do that with us, but without champions league, its a lot to ask to hang around. I hate to say it, but I think they’re a title contender.

    Time for wolf hunting now.

  • TA, I’d like to write a statistic-heavy comparison and analysis on Arteta’s first 10 games of a full season.
    Obviously after the rating/observations post. I just wanted to announce it up front, before being charged with turning tonight’s (hopefully) positive mood into anything negative, or draw any suspicion of doing it from any kind of bitterness. 🙂

    In the meanwhile, COYG!

  • Jnyc, Chelsea indeed has the funds, but buying proven top players (albeit young) from Bundesliga or the Champions League is not really big scouting performance. Similarly us signing Partey (or almost getting Aouar, or maybe buying Szoboszlai) isn’t much of a ‘diamond eye’ scouting feature, but signing Gabriel, Tierney and Martinelli were true scouting masterclass. And Rúnarsson plus Mari can turn out to join the list in the future.

  • After Wolves took the lead Arsenal equalizes by a Gabriel header following a Willian assist.
    Are we following the footsteps of the Fulham game? I certainly hope so…

  • I would’ve brought on Holding regardless of docs opinion. Luiz was laying down too long for my liking…. especially for a central defender…….also, not taking free kicks. But that’s just me.

  • Not sure how much that clash of heads has affected the mood of both sides but the away side appear to have recovered faster. Either that or we are just too inept as a team. How do we explain Wolves coming on to our own perch to be more interested in it than we are? These are truly worrying signs, for me.

    Auba isn’t chomping at the bits to get himself a goal, apparently. I have seen two situations where you’d expect a desperate guy to throw himself at the ball, just to get that monkey off his back. If anything, he looks so disinterested, won’t pass accurately and won’t seek to play others in. Bellerin is another I worry about. He is happiest when he isn’t defending and just seems to be wary of being the one blamed for any error. For me, if he got his positioning right and was quick to the second ball, we don’t concede the second.

    I am a bit disappointed, really. Arteta has got to fix this. Bring on Nelson, Holding (not sure Luis is himself after that clash of heads) and Elneny, for Willian, Luis and Willock or Ceballos. Just change it up and fire Tierney up. He’s looked so dejected.

  • Yes J, I agree, Luiz went to the near post when Gabriel was there and left Bellerin marking two players for the first goal, he seems all over the place. I don’t doubt his courage I just doubt whether he is totally switched on.

  • Jync, I had the same thought about Luis. Also, after staying down so long, he hasn’t jogged to warm up before seeking re-entry. That was odd.

    Tierney has to be stronger on Traore and Gabriel must take responsibility. It isn’t even funny anymore. And if Auba persists with his lackadaisical approach, take him off!

  • Big chance spurned by Saka. Should be diving into that with his head. At the other end, Gabriel is pole axed by a shot. He should be okay.

    Better urgency from the Arsenal.

  • Auba has to be leading this come back attempt. The team would benefit from greater involvement from him.

  • Great block Bellerin. Redeems himself after being at fault for letting the visitors in on goal.

  • We will never know how Luiz condition affected his movement and positioning… but I say it probably did matter. After 2 goals, he comes off at halftime anyway.

  • Another home defeat following an uninspiring display (only 6 key passes again).
    Nobody was particularly bad tonight, but no outstanding performances either (maybe Gabriel for scoring, but he also had an average game overall). Xhaka did good defensively, but we expect more from him, and the same applies to Ceballos.

  • Yes J, both goals had an element of bad luck and we were lacking in organisation at the back. Luiz in a back four doesn’t work anyway, with or without an icky 🤕

  • There is no doubt that Arteta has his work cut out. I knew it would be tough but not this tough. I cannot get my head round our lack of frame in the team.

  • Can’t criticise the effort they put in 2nd half but we were crying out for a centre forward in that situation, meanwhile Aubameyang looks as if he’s running in treacle.

    I was glad to see Nelson come on but he’s never as effective on the right, I like him when he’s cutting in and running at players not trying to put over crosses to our non-existent centre forward.

    Arsenal badly need the crowd back, especially at the Emirates…

  • Can we just try something different than crosses into the box? We seem completely devoid of ideas in attack and are not playing our more creative players in central areas. They say games are won in midfield and the gap in quality there is exacerbated with Partey out (for another 6 weeks too…).

    I don’t know where we’re going to find that spark but the lack of investment in our midfield and allowing our better ones leave for almost nothing is coming back to really haunt us.

  • This side is breaking all manner of unwanted records: Least points after 10 games in our premier league history; three straight home losses; more than 8hrs of football without an open play goal….till Gabriel spared our blushes, or that may have even gone on longer.

    Arteta has to change something as the NLD approaches. This team has a lot more to give but seem to be restricted by the tactics stipulated by the coaching staff. So, that gets me thinking we may have returned to the complicated regimen that I suspect Emery’s coaching style was. The players play like they are trying more to counter the strengths of opponents instead of playing to their own strengths and that stems from hours of watching videos of opponents and being repeatedly cautioned how dangerous this player or that is.

    This game has its psychological side so easy to see the value in creating belief in a team; making it believe it (the sum of the parts) is better than it really is and allowing the players to go out to express themselves. How else did we think Wenger got Theo Walcott believing he could be a centre forward at a club like Arsenal? Arteta may still have a thing or two to learn from the sage.

  • Lol. The microphones picked up on Rob Holding’s comment to the Ref, after he was called for that body check on Traore, just as Wolves made an attempt at a counter attack:

    “He’s built like a brick sh*thouse for f*ck sake! How’s he going down like that?!” Great lip from Rob there. 😂

  • Interesting to see that Roy Keane has labelled the Arsenal team ‘soft’ – is that the same soft Arsenal team that beat his mob at OldTrafford a few weeks ago?

  • Erie, what strengths does this team have though? We’re not very good in possession, indecisive on the counter, and inconsistent in our pressing. Our best performances have come in Europa where the level of competition is definitely lower. I’m out of ideas on what else can help us at this point, aside from maybe trying Willian or Saka centrally, but even then, I can’t see much more of a path forward.

    We’ve seemingly stagnated/declined as teams around us have gotten decidedly better. I want to see some positive steps forward, but I’m finding it very difficult right now. I know we could clear out a lot of the deadwood, but Arteta has to be able to get more out of the current group from an attacking standpoint to at least show that he has ideas.

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