Arsenal: Arteta previews Crystal Palace clash
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is close to having a fully-fit squad to choose from, which will leave him with some big decisions to make. Gabriel Martinelli’s ankle injury is not a serious one and he should be back as soon as Monday’s visit of Newcastle United. Gabriel Magalhaes is available for the clash with Crystal Palace at the Emirates on Thursday after recovering from coronavirus, with Thomas Partey also likely to return from his thigh injury.
Arsenal’s injury woes mean they have rarely had a full squad available in recent seasons.
It will be the first time Arteta will have that luxury since he became boss in December 2019.
The fixture congestion means he is likely to rotate at times but he will surely have a first XI in mind that he would prefer to see line up.
One position where no deep thinking is necessary is in goal. Bernd Leno is definitely the No 1 and there is no danger of that changing anytime soon.
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Again, the full-back positions name themselves. Hector Bellerin has impressed of late after receiving plenty of criticism from supporters.
Cedric Soares has played just five minutes of Premier League football this season, so Arteta has made it clear who he prefers.
Kieran Tierney has played a starring role at left-back and is undoubtedly the first-choice in that position.
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It then becomes more tricky at centre-back. Arteta has found a successful partnership with Rob Holding and Pablo Mari.
The pair complement each other well, with one being right-footed and the other left.
Holding appears to be the preferred option on the right ahead of the likes of David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi.
The decision is less cut-and-dry on the left, with Mari and Gabriel both strong options.
But Mari’s run of form, as well as his record of winning all eight of the matches he has played from start to finish since he joined the club, means he deserves the nod ahead of Gabriel for now.
In midfield, the return of Partey will be most welcome. Mohamed Elneny has performed better than expected this season but is ultimately a squad player and not on the same level as Partey.
Meanwhile, Granit Xhaka’s starring role as a substitute in the FA Cup third round win over Newcastle last Saturday showed he should be Partey’s preferred partner for now.
Emile Smith Rowe continues to shine in the No 10 role and Arteta will be wishing he had the 20-year-old injury-free from the start of the season.
To the right of Smith Rowe should be Bukayo Saka, who continues to embarrass Nicolas Pepe by doing exactly the role the club-record £72million signing should be doing, but at the tender age of 19.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should remain a starter on the left, despite his lack of goals this season.
Martinelli’s time will come, but at the moment Alexandre Lacazette deserves to start at the central striker, meaning Aubameyang operates out wide.
How Arsenal should line up when everyone is fit: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Mari, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
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