Arsenal face Leicester City this weekend, with a decision to make on their best midfield for the Premier League clash.
Arsenal have some quality in midfield areas, but they’re struggling to find the best combination of players at the moment.
Going into Matchday 6, Arsenal’s average odds to win the title are roughly at 55/2. Though that greatly outpaces the odds layed for their weekend foe Leicester (who presently are at 80/1), no visit from the Foxes should be taken lightly.
The midfield battle has been key to Mikel Arteta’s success and failure in recent weeks, so who will he pick for this one?
We saw Thomas Partey make a great debut against Rapid Vienna, Granit Xhaka is a changed man under Arteta, Dani Ceballos’ impressive end of the 2019/20 campaign is why he’s back again this season, but they’re not the only options.
There’s Bukayo Saka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who can both play that left-wing-back/left-central-midfielder hybrid role. Emile Smith Rowe is almost back from his latest injury. Mohamed Elneny played well in Vienna and Joe Willock is also available.
Most likely, we see either Saka or Maitland-Niles on the left against Leicester. I’d bet on Maitland-Niles, considering his lack of minutes in the last few matches. But that only leaves two spots open in the middle for the other six players to fight it out.
With the way Partey played against Rapid, it’s hard to exclude him. He clearly added a lot on and off the ball, leading the midfield in all the defensive stats and in progressing the player forward as well.
Ideally, he’d reprise his role from that game, with a midfield partner to his right. The problem is that Ceballos is an injury doubt, and Xhaka is generally stronger on the left.
You could play Xhaka in Partey’s position and move Partey to the right. Partey is certainly capable of playing that role, and I’d actually prefer it if he did. Nicolas Pepe could use the support on that side.
Alternatively, you keep Partey where he is and play Elneny again, but you’re risking a performance like the opening hour on Thursday.
Elneny eventually played one of the passes of the match to set up the winner, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that kind of creativity is just not really his game in general.
For now, it’s still too soon for Smith Rowe. But he could have a great case in that position to the right of Partey if the new signing does remain on the left. He loves to get forward and contribute in the final third, which you can’t always say about his alternatives.
As for Willock, he had a decent 10-minute spell against Rapid, but it’s just hard to see him breaking in right now.
Personally, I’d go with Maitland-Niles on the left, with Xhaka and Partey in the middle. But it’ll be interesting to see who Arteta chooses, particularly if Ceballos is fit. Would he really leave Xhaka out again? Or could Partey drop out despite his form? We’ll see.