For The Gunners pre-season begins in earnest tonight in Lens. FC Lens are no longer the top side who battled Wenger’s great 1998 double winners in the Champion’s League. Indeed they are not even a top division side in France, finishing last season 4th in Ligue 2 but they should provide a good work out for Arsenal fist team squad.
With many Arsenal first teamers still away on the beach after their endeavours in The Euros of in the case of Alexis in the Copa this match tonight gives many peripheral players the chance to shine. For some that means a chance to shine to push for a starting 11 position come August and for others it may determine if the 16/17 campaign sees them in Wenger’s first team plans or looking at a loan spell. So whilst the fixture may not set the pulses racing or influence the Online Premier League Odds at this stage it is significant for the management and particularly the young players
With Ospina yet to return it is virtually certain that Emi Martinez will feature in goal whilst Szczeny appears to be returning to Italy. In the full-back positions there is a choice on both flanks. On the left both first teamers are fresh and available in Monreal and Gibbs. With Arsenal being linked to at least 3 left backs this window many felt Gibbo might be sold. He seemingly wants to stay and fight and he is a good few years younger than Nacho. I think Kieran will start. The right back position is more complex with Bellerin not yet returned and Carl Jenkinson the choice is between 2 players who may be surplus to requirements in Debuchy and Chambers. Whilst I firmly believe that Chambers has a future as a top quality central defender I equally see no future for him as a right back. With the arrival of Rob Holding imminent Calum is linked to a Premier League loan but I feel he will get the nod over the veteran Frenchman with the poor attitude.
Centrally we will possibly see the partnership that will start the league season in Mertesacker and Gabriel. I hope that the Brazilian has been on an intense course of English lessons from May to July on instruction from the club. It maybe the poor communication is all that is preventing him making the first team jersey his own but with rumours of BFG being given the armband by Wenger you have to wonder. A new addition renders then both to the bench when Kos returns in my view however. I am genuinely excited by the signing of Holding if confirmed and I am not so sure he will not be pushing for first team action. After all a certain Tony Adams was about to be our skipper at a similar age. Without Kos or Holding though I think Krystian Bielik may play the second half tonight. The young Pole signed as a DM has featured mainly as a CB for the U21s and he should be pushing for a Championship loan perhaps. However the quality and depth we know have in his position suggests progress into the first team reckoning could be difficult.
Assuming the predictable 4231 and with Xhaka back at Colney but too late for tonight and Santi injured the 2 holding roles from outset with go to Coquelin and Elneny. The Frenchman has been vocal about fighting for his place and the Egyptian just goes about his business with a smile on his face. For me Elneny is in pole position to start the season alongside our new signing and we may see that partnership, at least for some of the match against Man City in the next friendly. Of course Jack Wilshere may have something to say about that but tonight as with Xhaka is too early for Jack.
Tonight in the second half we should see the return to Arsenal colours of Gedeon Zelalem but I would be stunned if he is in the first team reckoning come August. The reports from his loan spell at Rangers were favourable but at 19 and with a slight build I believe the best he can hope for is pre-season minutes to attract a loan suitor. Hopefully from the English second tier this time.
The completion for the three 3 advanced positions behind the striker is hot even with Ramsey and Ozil away and Cazorla injured. There are 3 first team regulars from last season in Iwobi, Ox and Joel Campbell competing with 3 wannabes in Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock and a Serge Gnabry on the come-back trail. I have little doubt that all 6 will feature with perhaps the 3 first teamers starting and with Iwobi denied the chance to represent his chosen country in the Olympics one suspects Wenger has a key role in mind for him at the start if the campaign. I has thought in Ozil’s absence Sabti might shuffle forward into his old 10 position but the responsibility v Liverpool may rt on the shoulders of Iwobi. What a huge opportunity for the young Nigerian and one I am sure he will grasp with relish. Either side of him I expect Ox and Campbell and then in the second half Wenger my give the talented Jeff some time at CAM with Gnabry and Willock.
I hope that Willock and Jeff R-A do well in the pre-season matches but equally I hope they both go on loan during the campaign, I am not sure a tricky winger will ever thrive in Wenger’s Arsenal first team but by the time Willock returns there may be a new regime. There is no doubt the boy has talent and the same with Jeff of course but the young Frenchman need to toughen up and grown up in the Championship to familiarise himself with the true rigours of adult football. I don’t know what to think about Serge Gnabry. He exploded on to the Arsenal scene and then has suffered from a combination of injuries and a dreadful decision by the club to loan him to a Pulis side. Watch this space but a loan in the Bundesliga may beckon.
The lone striker role MUST go to Theo Walcott this evening. With the creativity behind he will thrive and even is the new striker does arrive it will be Theo who commence our Premier League campaign against Liverpool and Leicester in Giroud’s absence not Sanago or Akpom. Theo began last season in the role after starring there at the end of the previous campaign and he started well. His poor form after injury last season was when he was asked to revert to his wide role and for me this role is now beyond him. We have 4 or 5 players including Ramsey, although many don’t want to heart that who will work for the team where Walcott will not.
His future at Arsenal if he has one is in his hands and this really is the last chance saloon for a still young man who promised so much and in fairness delivered for some time but he has not done so with consistency and that is the key. I am sure Chuba will feature later today but I for one want Walcott to work his socks off for 60 minutes at least because by the City fixture he may have some 30 yard passes from Xhaka to latch onto. Passes that I suspect many have been intended for Vardy had things worked out differently.