Premier League Fantasy Preview: Arsenal
This season could be Arsène Wenger’s last year at the club as the Frenchman’s contract is set to expire, the the Gunners looking to allow their long-serving manager to go out on a high.
Arsenal finished second last season despite a couple of poor patches of form, although they ended the campaign a massive 10 points behind the shock league champions Leicester City.
It has been another frustrating summer for Arsenal fans, with the early signing of Granit Xhaka not backed up by more arrivals and striker Jamie Vardy rejecting a proposed move from Leicester.
What do fantasy football players need to know about Arsenal ahead of the new season’s kick-off?
Likely tactics and formation
Arsenal almost always use a 4-2-3-1 formation and Wenger likes his team to dominate possession, even if they do not always move the ball as fast as they could.
The Arsenal back line will sit high up the pitch and the deep-lying midfielders will be invited to set the tempo with their passing – Arsenal completed more passes than any other team last season.
Arsenal lack genuine width, which is perhaps one of the big reasons behind their attempts to sign Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez.
With Xhaka the only first-team signing made by Wenger so far, the Arsenal team is likely to be very similar to the XI used by the Frenchman most weeks last year.
Xhaka will take one of the two defensive midfield spots, while Wenger’s countrymen Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny will also feature in the spine of the team, with Petr Čech in goal.
Čech was one of Arsenal’s star performers last season, helping the team to keep 18 clean sheets in the league, which was more than any other team in the division. The experienced Czech Republic international has more Premier League clean sheets – 137 – than any other stopper in the top flight and he is well clear of his nearest rival, Manchester City’s Joe Hart.
Cover for Čech primarily comes from Colombia international David Ospina, who played Champions League games for Arsenal last year as well as domestic cup games. Ospina impressed at the Copa América over the summer break but has been linked with a move away from the Emirates Stadium, with Wenger keen to keep him at the club.
A serious knee injury sustained by Per Mertesacker during the pre-season preparations will disrupt Arsenal’s defensive plans, with Koscielny now likely to partnered by Gabriel Paulista.
Fantasy football favourite Héctor Bellerín is likely to continue his development into one of the best young full-backs in the world, with Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs battling for the left-back role.
The big money signing of Xhaka should strengthen Arsenal’s soft centre, with the Switzerland midfielder an improvement on the Gunners’ previous defensive midfielders. Xhaka could be partnered by Aaron Ramsey, fresh off a superb Euro 2016 campaign with Wales, while Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are the other candidates for one of the deep-lying midfield roles.
Mesut Özil’s huge number of assists (19) made him a must-pick in daily fantasy football last year and the German will again take the number 10 position, while Copa América champion Alexis Sánchez should shake off an ankle problem to be fit for the start of the season. Right wing looks a weakness, with Mahrez’s potential arrival making a massive difference to Arsenal’s title hopes.
Arsenal’s lack of a top-class striker could be their undoing again, with Giroud favourite to start the season up front. The target man hit three goals at Euro 2016 but had a mixed tournament, failing to make an impact in the semi-final or the final, but he remains Arsenal’s best option currently.
Wenger could yet target a new forward to compete with Giroud, but former Arsenal target Gonzalo Higuaín has joined Serie A champions Juventus from Napoli for a fee in the region of £75 million, the move becoming the third most expensive transfer in the history of the sport.
Wide players Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi can both change a game from the bench, while Theo Walcott could also be a useful asset as a pacy substitute forward late in the game. New striker signing Takuma Asano is unlikely to play much first-team football this season, while Joel Campbell could be in the last chance saloon.
Carl Jenkinson and Calum Chambers provide cover across the back four, while Rob Holding has joined from Bolton Wanderers to add further competition at right-back. Additional midfield options for Wenger include Francis Coquelin – who has been pushed down the pecking order by Xhaka’s arrival – and Egyptian international Mohamed Elneny.
Özil and Sánchez look the most likely set-piece specialists in the squad, although Ramsey also likes to try his luck with shots from direct free-kicks on occasion. Özil’s corners will seek to pick out the aerial threat of Giroud, with Koscielny also capable of causing havoc in the opposition box.
Giroud scored two out of two penalties last season and is likely to retain spot-kick duties this year.
A fee of around £30 million was lavished on Xhaka, but that did not kickstart a summer of heavy spending at the Emirates Stadium, with only small amounts used to buy Holding and Asano since.
There should be money leftover in the transfer kitty for Wenger to spend, but he will not splash the cash for the sake of it and will only move for a player if he believes they will improve his options.
Mahrez looks to be Arsenal’s major target but one Leicester forward – Vardy – has already turned the Gunners down and Barcelona are also rumoured to be interested in the tricky Algerian star.