The 2012/13 Premier League season is nearly a quarter-way through and two of the cup competitions are also well underway. Now that we have see what this team looks to be capable of, we once again appraoched our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada to give their views on the season so far.
Despite lingering injuries to some key players, improved squad depth has played a big role in Arsenal's season thus far. The goals have been spread around, and Arsène Wenger has been able to rotate the squad in a number of ways. And now with several Arsenal stars making their way back to full fitness, the manager could soon face a real selection headache.
Will players like Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Frimpong make their way into the squad over the next few weeks? And if so, who will have to make way? The possible combinations seem almost endless, so we asked out panel who they think.
Question: Who is the most likely to step into Arsenal's starting XI - and who will join them?
Being that we've been clamoring for greater competition for places in recent years, it certainly won't be easy for anyone. Granted,Jack Wilshere is the biggest name of our 'Like-A-New-Signings', but he will have to contend with the presence of automatic selections in Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, as well as the in-form Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby, and the much-vaunted Francis Coquelin.
Given this much-improved depth in midfield, the player with the most direct path back into the first XI is Bacary Sagna. Despite being, for me, the best right back in England for several years now, Bacary will face very stiff competition for his place.Carl Jenkinson, "The Corporal," has been a massive bright spot for the Gunners thus far. His development as a player is miles ahead of where most of us would have pegged him to be even just a few months ago and is looking every bit the Arsenal right back of the future, today.
I would say that Sagna will have the easier path back because for one thing, we've seen him come back strong from the very same injury last season, and for another, he's only got one player to beat out to get back into the side... even if that player has rapidly become a personal favorite of mine. I mean, Jenkinson has got Arsenal PJ's. You can't not love that.
I honestly think that the starting XI we saw at Upton Park is currently our strongest. But, despite it being so fantastical that it might contain dragons, I've been asked to factor in our Like-A-New-Signing's and assume they are completely match-fit and playing at an optimal level. So all right, I'm game. If I'm picking the side, I would change out Aaron Ramsey for Jack Wilshere, Vito Mannone for Wojciech Szczesny, and, though it breaks my heart a bit to do it, Carl Jenkinson for Bacary Sagna. This is not a judgment on the performances these players have contributed this season; all three have absolutely exceeded expectations and will certainly be counted on over the course of such a long season, even if they don't get the call on this one, magical, hypothetical day when all Arsenal players are injury-free. So, from front to back, and in only a loose positional sense since our players tend to move around the pitch so much, here is that "Best XI":
Having too many quality players in a position must be the equivalent of a "first world problem" in football. It's certainly been a conundrum for Arsenal fans since the start of the season when it came to predicting who would be our starting centre back pairing. I had always felt that our squad was several quality players away from competing for a trophy and welcome this new ‘problem' we will no doubt have when Sagna, Wilshere and Frimpong return to first team action.
Like Brett, I think it will be more difficult for the likes of Wilshere and Frimpong to demand a position in the starting XI. I feel, however, that nobody in the squad should be considered an automatic selection -- not even Arteta or Cazorla. Spots on the starting XI should be open to competition and I believe the new depth in the squad will improve competition and quality of football being played by this crop of Arsenal players.
Rotation is key as well. The fact that we will have numerous options in midfield will make it harder for the opposition to have us ‘figured out' tactically before a match. Options in defence will also enable us to rotate based on the opposition and strengths of the players available. Rotation will also enable us to rest players who may be at risk of injury and prevent the dreaded long term injuries our squad has faced in recent seasons. A deep squad will also be favourable in our pursuit of silverware on all four fronts.
That being said, if we were to play a big opponent tomorrow and IF all our players were fit and in form (one can dream!), this would be my preferred starting XI:
I know it's still very early in the season but I think we can surmise from this latest selection quandary that, contrary to early seasons murmurings, Arsenal DO in fact have a fair bit of depth. I have to agree with Brett that Sagna -- despite Jenkinson's impeccable form this season -- probably has the best shot at slotting back into the squad once any niggling injuries have subsided. The level of consistency he's shown over the last several years while performing at such a high level has established him as an exceptional talent in the Premiership. I think Wilshere will similarly beat a fairly straight path back into the starting lineup once he's convinced Wenger that he's regained full fitness. Whereas Ramsey and Coquelin have impressed over patches, Jack has left few doubting his pedigree and ability to consistently make the right decisions in difficult games.
In regard to a preferred Arsenal starting XI, I think Wenger's made it fairly evident he'll seek to rotate the lineup (especially the offense) based on the style and complexity of the opposition, as well as player injuries. I'm honestly open to any and all rotation on offense and in the midfield (provided Arteta is kept and ably deputized) because I think that, more than anything, is what will allow Arsenal to go the extra distance necessary to win silverware this term.
My only other preference for an established starting XI would be the inclusion of Mertesacker for his positional awareness and discipline on defense: he unfortunately remains the only central defender we have who consistently chooses to read the game as it unfolds in front of him rather than aggressively intervening in opposing attacks wherever they may occur on the field. So with that said, below is the starting XI that would give me the most confidence going into big games this season:
Sagna - Mertesacker - Vermaelen - Gibbs
Wilshere - Arteta
Walcott - Cazorla - Podolski
The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Broadband Ltd.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 15 Oct 2012