We are entering into the unknown, venturing into an era where we can have no preconceptions of what will be.
Unai Emery’s appointment heralds the clean slate we have been crying out for, and his recruitments thus far are a small peek into the style of football we will be privy to.
In terms of defensive appointments, Sokratis and Stephane Lichtsteiner add a slice of bastardry to our ranks. So often we have been naive and allowed the opposition to pull us around, and we’ve needed a touch of the dark arts for quite some time.
It is in midfield though, where the questions lie. Aaron Ramsey, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Jo Willock, Lucas Torreira, Mohamed Elneny, Mattel Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka are the names we have that will form the pool of central midfield for the season. We also have the likes of Alex Iwobi who has been known to play there too, so we are well covered in terms of numbers.
Who will form the first choice partnership though?
Unai Emery has been tinkering in pre-season with different duo’s, but in terms of formation, we could even have a midfield 3. The Spaniard is not averse to a 4-3-3, and it does give us the chance to field a fierce looking engine in the centre of the park.
It also allows us to field our three strongest midfielders. If Emery goes with what he favours though, then a 4-2-3-1 will be the eleven that we go with – and one will be sacrificed to the bench.
Aaron Ramsey is probably our most complete box-to-box man, and if we do have a pair in the centre, it is likely the Welshman will take up one of the spots. That then narrows down who will partner him – who’s style compliments his best?
Last season saw a very contrasting performance level from Xhaka. On one hand, his passing was exemplary, and he regularly topped the rankings in the Premier League for completed passes. On the other hand, we often saw the Swiss star failing to track runners and switching off concentration. This will be something that not only Emery is aware of, but hopefully something he can remedy.
Then there is Lucas Torreira. The diminutive Uruguayan topped Serie A for two straight seasons in terms of tackles and possession won. He can be the sentry that stands guard while Rambo does what he does best – rove forward with explosive runs into the box, linking up play as he goes.
The only problem with Torreira is that there will be an inevitable bedding in, an adaptation to a new style, new country, new life. What he did in Italy was the reason we bought him, but there will be new things to consider and learn. We won’t see the best from him for a while, and there is even a chance that he might just be a wrong fit. Sometimes new buys don’t work out.
It is conceivable that if Xhaka doesn’t improve his defensive side, and Torreira just doesn’t hit the heights, that one of Willock or Maitland-Niles could get the nod. AMN especially has been on an upward curve, last season showed that and when he did get a rare start in midfield, he did a fine job, especially for someone of his years.
He has also bulked up a bit, shed his gangliness and now looks ready to do battle. He is an exciting proposition.
Mo Elneny never lets anyone down and seems happy with his role as squad player, and can fill in where necessary, and his value to us can’t be underestimated either.
Then there is the wildcard, the meteoric rise of Guendouzi. The player bought for the future but with things to say right now. He hasn’t looked out of place and the fact that he’s starting ahead of the majority of the players above spells out a player who can make the position his own.
The season has many questions for us all, but our engine room is probably the one that we all want to know the answer to. Every game will edge us toward an answer.