Most people are well aware of the challenge that lies in front of Mikel and his staff this year, and likely over the next few if we are being completely honest. To breakdown the club, remove deadwood, relay a foundation, recreate a lost identity with an Arteta-esque spin, bring in new and improved players, and get them to play together as a cohesive unit is no small task. His first few months as a manger were very successful in regards to laying a foundation and instilling that sense of a club and team identity. The next, and current, challenge is rebuilding the playing staff correctly, effectively, economically.
Yesterday, David Luiz was announced as injured with neck issues, likely ruling him out for the weekend. Not only will he be out for the weekend, he will potentially be out for the next six weeks. In his absence, Arteta will have quite a few options to consider when it comes to setting up his backline. Luiz was set to be a pivotal part of Arsenal’s backline, especially in the early stages when his veteran presence would be there to help guide young defenders like William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes.
While it was very likely that Arsenal would begin the season in the 3-4-3 formation that they uncovered last season, into this one against Liverpool – this injury almost makes it inevitable. But it’s not the only thing this injury highlighted.
David Luiz’s injury, and the subsequent reminder that Arsenal are an injury or two, in specific areas, away from having to do some major tinkering with their lineup. Arsenal have an obscene amount of defenders, and yet, with Pablo Mari recovering from injury and looking to return to training in September, Mustafi aiming for October, and Calum Chambers out until the new year, it feels like finding quality, consistent numbers it tougher than it should be.
That’s not to put down Arsenal’s two new signings – Gabriel or Saliba – they are mostly just untested at this point and it would be fair to expect some growing pains. Rob Holding was half way out the door to Newcastle before Arteta did a 180 on his future. Sokratis is likely be sold, but hasn’t played a competitive match since March. But the central defense isn’t the only position.
What happens if Lacazette gets a long term injury? Nketiah will play, but it’s fair to question whether he could bring quality for a lengthy term yet. Aubameyang could slot in, but Arteta simply does not want him to be down the middle for reasons that make some degree of sense. Martinelli is another option, but he is out until January at least, so if there is an injury early on, Arsenal find themselves in a bit of a struggle.
Left back is another position that could seen be feel a little light. Assuming either Hector or Ainsley Maitland-Niles exit the club, Arsenal are left with Kieran Tierney, Maitland-Niles if he stays, having Soares cover, or testing a left-footed center back like Gabriel or Mari there. The real option that we would likely see is the return of Saka to the backline. It works, but at some point in Saka’s development as a midfielder or winger, you’ll not want him in being attached to that role. This spot would work out with less difficulty than the others, but should Kieran Tierney go down, as he has multiple times in his Arsenal career, it presents some degree of worry.
Now, the depth at central forward and left back are passable and the potential six week gap can work in the center of defense, although they demonstrate a potential problem waiting to happen. Neither of these two spots are the biggest concern should injury arise. Now I assume you know where I am heading with this, but it has to be said – at this point, if anything happens to Granit Xhaka, Arsenal are in a world of problems.
We saw what happened during their match against Manchester City to open the restart. Xhaka got hurt and the team struggled to do anything. Out possessed 68-32%, outshot 20-3, and soundly beat 3-0. Unlike the other two spots, the make up of the midfield right now falls apart without Xhaka’s presence and it’s something that needs to change. Sure there are games where Arsenal could get away with some kind of Ceballos-Guendouzi center, toss Willock in the mix, or even look at Ainsley Maitland-Niles if others aren’t hurt, but if that is something Arteta is forced into, Arsenal could be in some real trouble.
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to strongly consider paying what Atletico Madrid ask for Partey or shelling out for Aouar, adding quality, depth, and options for the unexpected. There is plenty of time to land one of these top targets and plenty of reason to make sure it happens soon. Arsenal are one game that starts like their City fixture did from having a near catastrophe on their hands in the midfield.
It appears that swaps may be off the table, unless Atletico come around on Lacazette, which means Arsenal will have to find a way to make the cash. That will involve making sales and sales will make their lessen their options a bit as well. Not that they shouldn’t be made, they should, but Arteta may soon find out that every action has an opposite reaction in a harsh way. Fingers crossed we don’t!
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