July 24, 2022
Three questions ahead of Arsenal’s pre-season fixtures

Arsenal play this next Friday, just 47 days after their last game of the 2021-22 campaign. The next campaign, starting earlier due to the mid-season World Cup, is just a month away, with Arsenal playing at Crystal Palace on August 5. So, while pre-season is still just pre-season, there are a few questions games can be a way to answer.

Over the past season, Arsenal’s system has changed. Having started in a fairly standard 4-2-3-1, Mikel Arteta began using Thomas Partey as the sole pivot, pushing the other member of the double pivot further up the pitch, into a more traditional No.8 role. For much of the campaign, that role fell to Granit Xhaka, who did his best in a role he’s clearly not the most comfortable in, as he’s a #6, not a # 8. While Arsenal can get away with it, this is clearly an area where there can be improvement. Arsenal were linked with Youri Tielemans earlier this summer but that has been put on the back burner. Still, with Xhaka still on vacation, following his international efforts for Switzerland, there could be an intriguing insider solution at No.8, whether it’s Emile Smith Rowe, new signing Fabio Vieira or someone like Albert Sambi Lokonga.

William Saliba is set to return to Arsenal this season after a successful loan spell at Marseille. Of course, whether Saliba is actually wanted by Mikel Arteta has been a long-running theme over the past 18 months, especially as Arsenal bought Ben White last summer. Arsenal’s pre-season will be a good time to assess how Saliba is seen by Arteta, both in where he plays across the back four and who he is associated with. If, for example, Saliba is partnered with Gabriel Magalhães or White, that probably indicates that Saliba is very much in Arteta’s thoughts. If he’s paired with someone else or placed at the back, it could be a clue that Saliba isn’t close to Arsenal’s priority.

Arsenal have a number of players who have been on the bench for the first team but have not yet played for the Arsenal first team. Omari Hutchinson, Salah Oulah M’Hand and Marcelo Flores are all players U-23 watchers know well, while Charlie Patino and Miguel Azeez both made brief appearances for Arsenal, and Folarin Balogun returned from loan . Some of these players will need to be loaned out, but with Arsenal back in the Europa League group stage, there is still game time to provide for young players who weren’t there last season. Moreover, the third round of the Carabao Cup, which Arsenal will enter, is quite close to the start of the World Cup, and the fourth round of the Carabao Cup will take place immediately after, just before the Boxing Day matches. It would make sense to use younger players for these encounters. Finally, with five substitutes, there are more opportunities to give playing time at the end of the bench. Impressing in pre-season could therefore be a ticket to meaningful first-team minutes.

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