The lineup that faced Fulham was not the one many expected one month ago.
No William Saliba or Emiliano Martinez in the squad and Mohamed Elneny playing alongside Granit Xhaka came as a bit of a surprise. Not a slight on them, merely that it was assumed Arsenal would have made inroads in the transfer market by this point. Players in, players out.
We also expected our new(ish) arrival to slot straight into the first XI, but it’s been made clear he isn’t quite ready for a starting berth just yet.
Did it matter? It did not. There were solid performances across the board, be it the debutants or those who’ve spent time hovering on the periphery. Elneny was composed and, crucially, progressive – a trait he’s been often accused of lacking for much of his Gunners career.
In defence, Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes struck up a solid enough partnership. The lack of assertion on that claim being that tougher opposition than Fulham lie in wait. There was balance to what they did, complementing each other well.
Expect more of that.
A host of senior players remain sidelined, with the likely outcome being we’ll see a repeat team for Saturday’s visit of West Ham. It could even be the setup we see for much of the calendar year. If Holding maintains that level of performance on the weekend and potentially even in the big clashes against the likes of Liverpool, he may keep his spot even if David Luiz returns.
The interesting one will be with Elneny, who pipped Dani Ceballos to the post to make the 11. More than anything, we can expect that was fitness-related. The Spaniard wasn’t signed again on loan to occupy a bench role, after all.
Maybe that will have changed with his Craven Cottage display, as well as the Community Shield outing prior to that. Ceballos would be the more creative of the two next to Xhaka, but with Willian in the team and drifting into those central areas, the burden of creation is lifted somewhat off the midfield duo. For that reason, this team may be a sign of what is to come.
This works on the basis that additions are yet to walk through the doors at Arsenal. When/if they do – especially for the fees mooted – you’d be hard pressed to make a claim that Elneny will leave a £50m player out of the starting lineup.
Until then, with Pablo Mari, Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers, Luiz, Gabriel Martinelli all still nursing injuries, it appears as if the status quo will remain largely undisturbed for the coming weeks.
There is so much to like about the current style and approach. Can you look at this team and say it’s capable of securing top four? Probably not. But the team unity on show and the sudden raised performances of a select few who looked like drifting away is hugely encouraging.
Given the treatment room is well stocked as it is, then this lineup we could start getting familiar with. Happily so.