The first day of the new season is almost here! And we're debating what the strongest line-ups of all the top Premier League teams this season are. How do you see them lining up? An ex-player, prominent blogger and FFT look at the various permutations...
Former player: Alan Smith (Arsenal 1987-95)
(If Sanchez not fit, then Walcott)
Why this line-up
"Arsenal won’t be hugely changed from last season and they don’t need to be. They did so well at the end of last year and have hit the ground running in pre-season – they know each other’s games inside out.
"Cech is an obvious upgrade in goal. Ospina did nothing wrong, but Cech is just that bit more mature. He’s got great authority and marshals his defence very well. The defence is settled, too. Hector Bellerin has been good at right-back, but I think Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal will take the full-back slots.
"Francis Coquelin was fantastic last season and protected the back four very well - he’s great at winning those difficult balls. I think that helped Per Mertesacker a lot – he didn’t get exposed so much, and that helped his defending, plus his partnership with Koscielny. He could keep it simple.
"Arsenal are spoiled for choice going forward, but for that first game I’d pick Aaron Ramsey alongside Coquelin. I’ve not always been the biggest Mesut Ozil fan but he’s come good and this feels like a big season for him. Alexis Sanchez played with such joy and verve last season, and Santi Cazorla was superb too. Arsenal have so many options going forward, and a great striker in Olivier Giroud to finish moves off."
Blogger: Tim Stillman (@Stillberto)
Why this line-up
"Selecting an Arsenal starting XI is taxing. Even without Alexis Sanchez plus the injured Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere, Arsene Wenger has a selection rubix cube.
"The crux of the issue is that one of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil or Aaron Ramsey is going to have to play from the flank because Arsenal’s three-man midfield can’t accommodate them simultaneously. That is, unless you take away the safety net of Francis Coquelin, which Wenger might entertain for home games against sides lower in the table.
"For the purpose of Sunday, I think moving Ramsey to the right is the lesser of three relative evils, which the Welshman won’t appreciate. Ramsey and Coquelin aren’t a compatible enough central pairing to service Arsenal’s preference for building from the back.
"Here, Cazorla has carved out his niche in a deeper midfield role and I believe he can grace top level football into his mid-30s as a deep-lying playmaker in the Pirlo mould. Ramsey makes intelligent runs off the ball and formed a good partnership with Hector Bellerin last season on the right. I would be comfortable moving Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the left to facilitate this.
Arsenal vs West Ham LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone
"I’d continue with Bellerin ahead of Debuchy at right-back until there becomes an apparent reason to drop him, and Wenger’s Community Shield line-up suggests he’s of the same mind.
"Wenger’s other great noggin scratcher is his centre-forward choice. Theo Walcott was preferred on Sunday, but Olivier Giroud has a good record against West Ham. Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud is a good - if lopsided - attacking triangle and Ramsey can benefit from the Frenchman’s ability to bring others into play with his runs from the right."
Why this line-up
Arsenal are likely to line up 4-2-3-1, as they do, but a minor tweak to the formation of the front six, if not the personnel, could reap dividends by the end of the season as their strongest line-up becomes clear.
Santi Cazorla looked capable in a deeper role alongside the much-improved Francis Coquelin, but his natural attacking instincts mean the midfield can look flimsy when exposed to counter-attacks.
A third central midfielder would solidify that soft middle and suit their passing game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be at home as the willing runner, but Aaron Ramsey deserves a chance in his natural position.
ALSO ON FFT.COM
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are essential picks in the front three, the German's forays infield catering to an attacking left-back. Criticism of Olivier Giroud has been over-harsh, but Theo Walcott's directness make him a dangerous centre-forward if he can improve his finishing.
In defence, the Mertesacker-Koscielny combination is solid but Gabriel could eventually replace the German on account of his quicker feet and turn of pace later. Kieran Gibbs is well-suited to overlap a narrow midfield, and so are Hector Bellerin and Mathieu Debuchy – but Calum Chambers could surprise people this season. Arsene Wenger has faith in the 20-year-old and he's only going to improve.
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