MY ARSENAL FIRST ELEVEN AND WHY. FOR THE 2022/2023 ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON.
By Victor Stephen
Hello and big ups to all you gooners out there in the goonerverse. Firstly, I have got to admit, it’s been quite a boring few weeks without Britain’s most exciting soap opera, the English Premier League. Our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is, our beautiful round leather game is back on the 6th August, with a tricky trip for Arsenal FC away to Crystal Palace on a Friday night at Selhurst Park. This promises to be a mouth watering, scintillating, and feisty encounter, typical of a London derby.
Arsenal FC had in my opinion, a very good season in general. The youngest squad in the EPL last season, led by the youngest manager in the league as well. A tale of two novices, one on the pitch, the other in the dugout, trying to find their bearing in, without a doubt, Europe’s most competitive leagu,e against players and mangers with greater levels of experience. Finishing fifth last season is deserving of applause for our players. We can only hope that in this new campaign, this young team, having an added year of experience, coupled with the pain they must have felt by not getting into the champions league, will motivate them to fight even harder.
The summer transfer window is still open and this is time to make the necessary additions and subtractions to your squad in order to go toe to toe with the other teams. Arsenal have taken steps to address squad depth via the arrival of new faces in key positions. Marquinhos joined from Sao Paolo as the first summer signing. Add to that the arrivals of Fabio Vieira from FC Porto, Matt Turner from New England Revolution and most recently, Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City. Also, Nketiah and Elneny extending their contracts and the return of Saliba to Arsenal, you cannot help but perceive the sweet aroma of the tasty gourmet being prepared at the Emirates stadium.
With a plethora of options available to Arteta this season, he can only select eleven outfield players each match day. So here is, in my opinion on what should be Arteta’s first eleven. This list does not include players that are being targeted but not signed yet. I may still give my views on a few of such.
Aaron Ramsdale: There is no reason why Rambo should not get the nod in goal. Even if his form dipped a bit as the season began to crescendo, he was massive in the first half of the season. Awesome saves, cat-like reflexes, and laser guided passes. Rambo definitely deserves to keep his place in goal as Arsenal’s number one in the new season despite the arrival of Matt Turner, the USMNTs number one. It’s good competition that will definitely keep Rambo on his toes. It’s what we want to see in a big club, the stature of Arsenal. Healthy competition for places, no one should be a guaranteed starter you should look over your shoulder and know the person behind me could take my place next game.
- Right Back
Takehiro Tomiyasu: Super Tom as he is fondly called in the goonerverse. It’s quite herculean of a task to find the right adjectives to describe a superstar in the making in this 23 year old lad. His ambidexterity and versatility is every coaches desire as it affords him the flexibility in tactical deployments.
Arteta has the privilege of utilising Tomiyasu in three different positions. Mostly used at right back last season, he could also be deployed at centre back and left back as we saw at the tail end of the 21/22 campaign given to a wave of injuries to key players in certain positions and the squad being as thin as a hair line.
Irrespective of whoever Arteta may sign as competition for Super Tom this season, one thing for sure is when the team rolls out each match day, a fit Tomiyasu always starts in my first eleven.
21 appearances in the EPL last season. 13 wins, 6 losses, 7 clean sheets, 49% tackle success, 24 interceptions, 2 blocked shots, 55 clearances, 29 headed clearances, 89 recoveries, 104 duels won ‘and the beat goes on.’ It’s fair to say, this guy is colossus.
- Right Centre Back
Ben White: Trust me, it was not easy to make up my mind on this one. However, it only makes more sense to stick with Ben white. Not taking anything away from William Saliba. Yes, he had an outstanding season in the French league with Marseille, culminating in him being awarded the prize of best young player in Ligue 1 last season.
I am only trying to be realistic tactically in picking my first 11. Ben White had an impressive debut season in the red and white. A few dips in concentration but overall it’s fair to say he put in a consistent run of good games over the course of the campaign. He has built a partnership already with Gabriel and Arteta would only hope to keep the rhythm flowing. Ben looking over his shoulder in the dressing room definitely sees Saliba in the shadows lurking and is fully aware of his qualities. This position is a tricky one but I guess it will be a case of who wants it the most can have it. Though, Ben White gets the nod as the season opens.
- Left Centre Back
Gabriel Magalhaes: I think this guy makes the first 11 on any gooners list. As long as he is fit, his selection is not debatable neither is it negotiable. He was arguably our best defender last season putting in a string of consistent performances and of course the old dip in concentration as in the case with Ben White. We have got to cut them some slack as they are still very young.
Rock solid at the back with an eye for goal as no defender in the EPL last season recorded more goals than him, raking in five goals. It’s fair to say that while our attackers did not score enough goals last season, it was our performances at the back that guaranteed us a fifth place finish, losing out on the Champions league by two points, and Gabriel is a big reason for this.
He is very important for what Arteta wants to do going forward with this process. However, I would like to see competition or back up for Gabriel in this position or we risk burning him out.
- Left Back
Kieran Tierney: Ambition, desire and passion. All these virtues are intrinsic to KT and it makes more sense that despite injuries depriving him of showcasing his qualities, there are still whispers through the grape vine, of Manchester City keeping tabs on him. He is my choice at left back but KT is going to have to stay fit or Arsenal maybe forced to start looking elsewhere. There is no point possessing all the good qualities to make you a superstar player, yet the Club that pays you to play, do not have this opportunity due to a consistent string of injuries.
KT is too important to our first team to be out almost always at the most important parts of the campaign since he signed. On his day, he is quite unplayable churning out electrifying performances down the left flank. Tierney will always be my choice at left back but I think Arteta may just have to plan for life without KT, as we are linked to Lisandro Martinez of Ajax as Nuno Tavares is still very young and raw, he could do with a season long loan.
- Central Defensive Midfielder
Thomas Partey: Let me start by saying, this Thomas does not seem ready to Partey. Another fantastic player facing the same misfortune as Kieran Tierney with injuries. Thomas is one of the most, if not the most important cog in Arteta’s Arsenal element but his recurring hamstring injuries seems to be his achilles heel since his arrival from Atletico Madrid in 2020.
On his day, he is unplayable and if in doubt watch this:
If Arsenal hope to get into the Champions league next season, we are going to need a fully fit Thomas. It’s a tricky season for him because if Thomas has another injury plagued season, then I am afraid the Arsenal Board will have an important decision to make. I mean it does not take rocket science to see that the absence of Kieran and Thomas at the latter stages of last season, cost us a return to the Champions League. Arsenal can no longer afford to have our most important players taking early holidays. As much as Thomas makes my first eleven, I have to say as well that if he cannot complete another season for Arsenal, he should be sold. Thomas gets the nod in my starting eleven simply due to his experience and let’s face it, he’s a beast of tremendous proportions when fully fit, but that’s the dilemma, we need a fit Thomas that is ready to Partey.
- Central Midfielder
Granit Xhaka: Now that we have Thomas sitting deep and operating in the six, shielding the back four, linking up defence and attack ensuring smooth transition, it’s imperative to have a master tactician, comfortable on the ball and adept in breaking the lines beside Partey operating in the box to box role in central midfield. This is a tricky one because like I said earlier, I don’t want to talk about players that are linked and have not been signed yet, but my choice ideally for this role will be Youri Tielemans but let’s stick to Xhaka for now.
Xhaka is an enigma of a player. You never just know what you get from him on match day. The good, the bad or the ugly. He’s a classic Jekyll and Hyde case.
In my opinion, we need an upgrade on him in Tielemans as we cannot afford to lose Xhaka due to suspension as a result of his poor disciplinary record. However, it’s not all doom and gloom with Xhaka. On his day, he is such a key man with an array of passes and his signature XHAKABOOM!!! when in range.
He only gets the nod in my first eleven because he’s the best of what we have for now, but I feel if Arsenal sign Tielemans then I will want to see him alongside Partey in midfield.
- Attacking Midfielder
Martin Odegaard: Martin simply put is the conductor of Arsenal’s orchestra. Everything goes through him and when he has his off days, you see how disjointed we play lacking cohesion. In Odegaard, Arteta has at his disposal a young player with the mind of a coach on the pitch. He is every coach’s dream to have. A player who understands tactical instructions aptly and is able to transmit them to the players around him. No wonder, despite his young age, his country Norway made him captain of its national team and he looks like the front runner to be named permanent captain of the Arsenal first team.
His pressing, link up play, intricate threaded through passes to split defences and create scoring chances for his team mates is reminiscent of Mesut Ozil and Cesc Fabregas. While he may not always get the assist, it’s usually the pass before the assist that creates the opportunity for the goal and Odegaard can see such moves seconds before they happen.
He only needs to find more consistency in his performances but let’s be real, he only had his first full league season in a long time after being tossed across Europe on loan after signing for Real Madrid as a 16 year old in 2016. I believe the stability he has now will afford him the leeway to express himself more.
He gets the nod and will be deployed in the pocket behind the attackers, operating in the number 10 role as he is Arsenal’s playmaker in chief.
- Right Wing Forward
Bukayo Saka: Arsenal’s player of the season at 20 years old. He is undoubtedly our very own star boy. He notched an impressive 11 league goals and 7 assists last season in 38 matches improving on his tally of 5 goals and 3 assists in 32 matches in the 20/21 EPL season. Saka is a player that his improved tremendously. Little wonder why he keeps Pepe on the bench.
He seems to have struck an understanding with Odegaard as the two often combine effectively. Taking their game to the next level will only make them strike a telepathic connection that in turn improves our quality. It’s definitely going to be scenes you would love to see when they both unlock their inner instinct, the realm of mastery.
Saka gets the nod in my eleven.
- Left Wing Forward
Gabriel Martinelli: Another tricky pick for me here. To have to choose between Gabi and ESR was no easy feat. ESR raked in 10 league goals and was on fire in the first half of last season and he kept Gabi quiet in this time. However, from January, the tables turned and ESR found himself having to play catch up as Gabi was the man on fire in this period.
For this reason, Gabi gets the nod for me as the season opens only because of how he ended last season. This position is for both Gabi and ESR to show Arteta who wants it more as he is the one to assess them during training, we just do the hypothetical and speculate as this is my opinion. Either of them is capable and deserving of starting but Gabi laces up for me first.
His performances last season earned him a call up to Brazil’s A Selecao and if he has a better season in 22/23, he might just have a seat reserved for him on the plane to Qatar later in the year for the FIFA World Cup.
- Centre Forward/Striker
Gabriel Jesus: Arsenal have finally gotten their man to fill the vacant striker position in Jesus. Already signed he takes up the number 9 Jersey, a number that legend has it, seems to be cursed. Is he the man to finally break the curse of the Arsenal number 9 shirt? His scoring record in the EPL stands at 58 goals in 159 appearances, many of these games were off the bench as he has never really been the main man at the Etihad.
His most prolific season was in 19/20 campaign, scoring 14 goals as City finished runners-up to Liverpool in the title race. He has been described by Pep and Tite as the best pressing forward in the world and is suitable for the way Arteta wants to play.
If Arsenal add the right additions needed like securing Tielemans and Lisandro Martinez, added to the squad we have and Jesus spear heading our attack, then I bravely call it early and welcome Arsenal in advance, back to the Champions League for the 23/24 football season. Gabi will definitely add goals, experience, and a winning mentality to our team as he is a four time champion of English football.
He is no more playing second fiddle, he is the main man now, will he live up or give up on the expectations placed on him? The stage is set, the crowd is seated, the spotlight is on him and it’s time to perform. If this is the unlocking of Jesus, then Arsenal have got on their hands a very dangerous player.
So guys! There you have it, my starting 11 for Arsenal FC in the 22/23 EPL season. My deployment will be a 4-2-3-1 formation. I hope you enjoyed my breakdown, let me know what you think or what you would tweak. See you next time out. COYG!!!
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