Perhaps I should call this post guesses about the tactics and starting eleven against Swansea! After the recent overhaul of the squad it is hard to figure out exactly who is going to play or the tactical approach that will be used.
By and large, I don’t expect a big change in the style of play. Many fans want to see a change and it is likely to come, but in subtle, hard to notice installments. In this game we are likely see the same 4-3-3 formation with a single defensive midfielder in Frimpong.
I am keen to see the role Arteta gets. My preference would be deeper on the left, in the position Wilshere mastered last season. Arteta can cause serious damage if he gets a chance to arrive late at the edge of the box or if the movement of the forward players creates a pocket of space in front of the Swansea central defence.
Great players have the ability to help their teammates perform a notch or two higher than their usual level. Fabregas excelled at this and I believe the new Spaniard can replicate his predecessor to a fair extent in this regard. Ramsey, Walcott, and Van Persie will all benefit if Arteta can handle the pressure and bring the ball out from defence. Often for great passing teams, harmless looking simple turns and touches in the middle of the park can lead to gilt-edged chances in the blink of an eye. One must not put too high an expectation on a player who will need time to settle in a new system but this will be one of the key benchmarks to measure Arteta’s contribution.
Set-pieces will be another and I hope RvP does not pull rank on the newbie. There is no rational basis for this but I have a feeling the new No. 8 will score from a direct free-kick tomorrow.
At the back, Wenger’s choices are a bit more complicated. Vermaelen’s injury means Mertesacker can make his Arsenal debut just after returning from international duty. The German hasn’t had enough time to train with his teammates and that could hurt if the Gunners want to play a high line with an off-side trap. Given the fact that relative lack of speed is probably his only real weakness, playing him before he gets a chance to fully grasp the tactics seems like a risky move. Wenger will take that chance I think because the understanding between the other defenders hasn’t been that great so far this season. In a way, Mertesacker will be part of the work in progress.
The big German should find this a comfortable game as the Swans have a playing style befitting their nickname and do play at a slightly lower tempo with comparatively lower quality in the final third, which would probably be very similar to some of the teams in Bundesliga. Their wide players are fairly quick but their impact will depend more on the positioning of the Arsenal full-backs.
That brings me to the dilemma of choosing between Gibbs, who is just returning from another injury, or Santos, who hasn’t had genuine match practice for a while. I’d go with the Englishman. Playing two new defenders who haven’t had the chance to settle could be perilous.
Szczesny should be in good form after his heroics for the national team and hopefully the Frenchmen will have fully recovered from illness and a back spasm.
Up front, RvP and Theo should be automatic choices. Benayoun and Arshavin are the two main options for the left. While the Russian is not a fan favourite at this time, I’d go with Arshavin. Again the idea is to minimize the number of changes. Moreover, since the opponents are a good ball-playing team, Arshavin can get time and space to work his magic, which could magically work for his form.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Frimpong, Ramsey, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Arshavin.
Santos, Benayoun, and Park (assuming his visa is sorted out) can come on later in the game if it’s going well.
Wenger might, off course, have other ideas and we could see more than two new signings in action and in unexpected positions. I want to watch this game with a fresh and open mindset.
The result is undoubtedly important, especially with a three game handicap that the Gunners now have, but quickly redeveloping the playing style or integrating the arrivals into the system will prove decisive in the long run. Swansea, with respect and admiration, are ideal opponents from that perspective.
Now that the suspense and the drama is behind us, and even though the transfer window wasn’t ideal, I sense a feel-good factor is returning. Hopefully those at the Emirates will pass it on to the players and this will be the start of a shortened (by forgetting the first three games) but high impact season.