After taking a 49 day break, the Premier League makes it’s greatly anticipated return, with Arsenal kicking off its restart away to Championship play-off winners Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Despite Arsenal’s cup success last season, they finished the Premier League campaign in 8th place, and the Gunners will be looking for a major improvement on that over the next 10 months.
However, despite the break, Arsenal have confirmed they have seven players who are unavailable for the Premier League’s curtain-raiser, with David Luiz, Emile Smith-Rowe and Sokratis the latest additions to the Gunners’ list of casualties.
Defenders Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers and Shkodran Mustafi all remain injured from last season, while forward Gabriel Martinelli isn’t expected back until the end of the year after picking up a knee injury in training on June 21.
It is not ideal for Arsenal to be starting the season with this many injuries, however manager Mikel Arteta believes he has enough quality in his squad to overcome this problem. Arteta said: “We have a few issues around the squad. That’s something normal that we have to try to adapt to.
“We have enough really good players [in our squad] and tomorrow we will have the best possible plan to try and win our first game.”
Arsenal have made three new signings so far this window, with the introduction of Willian, Gabriel and Dani Ceballos, who is starting his second loan spell at the club, along with William Saliba who has returned from a loan spell with Saint-Etienne.
With the excitement about their arrivals growing, Arteta was asked about the possibility of Willian and Gabriel starting, and while the Spaniard didn’t give a clear answer, he was full of praise for his new signings.
Arteta said: “They have been training really well. They have adapted quickly. They are really excited to be here with us [and there’s a] really good energy from both of them. One is already very established in the Premier League with incredible quality. And another one that has to adapt to this league, but has huge potential to become a key player for us in the future.”
Arsenal have played two friendlies behind closed doors against QPR and Aston Villa respectively, winning the first 4-3 and losing the second 3-2. However, in the latter game, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s father released footage of his son’s goal which showed Willian, Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette playing at the same time as the Gabonese forward.
This hints that Arteta could return to a back four against Fulham, however due to the scorelines and the number of available players Arsenal have, I think the Spaniard might stick with a back three for now. With that in mind, here is how I think the Gunners will line up at Craven Cottage.
Leno, Bellerin, Saliba, Holding, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Ceballos, Xhaka, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Despite the fact that Mikel Arteta will probably want to ease Saliba into the team, his lack of defensive options leaves him no choice, so I think he will make his Premier League debut on Saturday.
Furthermore, I think Ceballos will start, not only due to his quality, but also because of his familiarity with Arteta’s system, and the partnership he developed with Granit Xhaka last season.
Overall, this game may not be as simple as some fans may think. Arteta has proven he can beat the big teams, however if Fulham decide to sit back and defend for large periods of the game, it will be a completely different test.
If this happens, I could see Arteta changing to the four-at-the-back formation he was using in the friendly against Aston Villa, as this would give the Gunners more options to break down a solid block of players, something Arsenal haven’t found easy to do so far under the Spaniard.