How did it come to this?
It’s rare that on the eve of a new season the atmosphere is as bleak as it is around Arsenal right now.
Normally there are grounds for optimism due to turnover of players in the squad, but that has been sorely lacking at the Emirates thus far.
Not one first team player has left the club on a permanent basis at the time of writing, and while new signings have been made it is only really Ben White who immediately improves the Gunners starting XI.
Given the grand promises of a summer rebuild that were promised at the end of last season, it has to be said that the business on the red side of north London has been pretty underwhelming thus far. Although there is plenty of time for that to change.
“Anything is possible and there is still a lot of things to be done and a lot of clubs involved,” said Mikel Arteta in his Thursday press conference.
“You can see that the ball starts to roll in a different speed in the last week or so. It’s been a difficult window.
“Probably a lot of things will happen in the last week or so.”
One thing that hasn’t come soon enough though is the acquisition of a new back-up goalkeeper, and after talks with Sheffield United for Aaron Ramsdale broke down, Arsenal find themselves facing the terrifying prospect of having to rely on either the ineffective Runar Alex Runarsson or the inexperienced Arthur Okonkwo should something happen to Bernd Leno.
The German will start on Friday, but if suitable cover is not found for him by the time Chelsea come to the Emirates next weekend, then serious questions will have to be asked.
Much of the back four in front of Leno picks itself with Ben White an even more nailed-on starter given the fitness doubts over Rob Holding, and Pablo Mari likely to play in the absence of Gabriel. Kieran Tierney is also a name put onto the team sheet in permanent marker if he is fit at left-back, but over on the right side of defence there is more scope for debate.
Arsenal have four different options who have played here over pre-season although it would seem none of them are good enough to be considered an outright first choice.
Hector Bellerin has generally been Arteta’s preference since he took charge a year and a half ago, but Calum Chambers and Cedric both moved ahead of him in the pecking order last season.
There is also the option of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but the England international has gone out of his way on several occasions to make it clear that is not the position in which he sees himself in the long-term.
With Bellerin being linked with a move and Cedric out of favour since April, it would seem that Chambers is in line for the start at the Brentford Community Stadium, but honestly it could be any one of them.
Somewhere where the selection is slightly easier to predict is central midfield.
Thomas Partey was imperious in pre-season, and after Granit Xhaka’s U-turn on a move to Roma the expectation was that the pair would start together when the real thing got underway.
Sadly, Partey was struck down with yet another injury, but this year Arsenal seem far better equipped to cope without him, after acquiring Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht, whose bravery on the ball should get him the nod over Mohamed Elneny.
At number 10 the Gunners’ inability to recruit a number 10 to support Emile Smith Rowe once again means they find themselves in a position where they have their fingers crossed that Emile Smith Rowe will come through this opening set of games unscathed.
James Maddison, Houssem Aouar and Martin Odegaard have all been linked, but none of them have signed yet, and with Joe Willock heading off to Newcastle and Willian unable to even make the squad for a pre-season game against Spurs, it will surely be the Hale Ender who is given the nod.
It might be a bit too early for his fellow academy graduate Bukayo Saka, though, who only just made his return to the team during the defeat at Tottenham Hotpsur Stadium last week.
Nicolas Pepe has looked bright all pre-season and Arteta might want to give the £72million man a chance to deliver on his undoubted potential.
If we use the pre-season form argument for the rest of the front line though, then picking the team become slightly more complicated.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang didn’t score in any of the six warm-up matches and has been a passenger on occasion.
However, he is the captain and it’s difficult to see Arteta dropping him at this point of the season.
At the same time, though, Alexandre Lacazette has looked really good at times, scoring twice and looking threatening throughout, while seeming to have a far more natural link up with the other forward players.
This may see Arteta opt for his skipper on the left with the Frenchman at number nine. It is a marriage of convenience as much as anything that will keep both happy, but is unlikely bring the best out of either.
Arsenal will hope that the impact is not too detrimental though, with this game against Brentford something of a must win, ahead of tough fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City before the international break.
Arsenal predicted XI vs Brentford: Leno; Chambers, White, Mari, Tierney; Sambi, Xhaka; Pepe, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
Source by Football London