Granit Xhaka is expected to return into the starting lineup as Mikel Arteta ponders midfield changes against Tottenham.
Ahead of the North London Derby, Mikel Arteta is weighing up some tinkering with his team selection to field the strongest and tactically adept starting lineup against Tottenham. The Arsenal manager faces a stylistic dilemma regarding Granit Xhaka, who returns after serving a three-game suspension.
Arteta experimented with a double pivot of Albert Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, with the duo performing well against Norwich City. In the Burnley game, the Asenal boss preferred a more attack-minded midfield unit comprising Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey, with the Ghanaian sitting at the base.
With Xhaka returning, Arteta has a think about whether he wants to bring the Swiss midfielder back into the fold alongside Partey or continue his existing partnership from the previous game. The former Arsenal captain’s re-entry could change the Gunners’ style a bit; Xhaka does offer plenty of security in midfield and brings experience, meaning he could certainly start.
At his pre-match press conference, Arteta was asked if Xhaka was 100% fit to play after recent reports suggested he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the month. Arteta said, “He came back, and he was fine because he really looks after himself. He was training, and as he always is, he gives you the maximum and the best possible attitude to compete and win matches.”
On to the goalkeeping situation, Arteta was asked questions regarding his first choice shot stopper for the season, and the Arsenal boss responded rather cheekily, suggesting the season is still young. However, there have been no indications he might drop Aaron Ramsdale for Bernd Leno after the English goalkeeper put in a solid performance against Burnley last time out.
Takehiro Tomiyasu has cemented his place since arriving at the club as the first-choice right-back ahead of other options like Calum Chambers and Maitland-Niles, and should start once again. Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes are likely to continue their strong central defensive partnership, with Kieran Tierney starting at left-back.
With an Xhaka-Partey axis in midfield, Martin Odegaard will move up into the attacking midfield role ahead of the duo. Arteta also has a choice to make with the front three, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang certainly among the starters to lead the line for Arsenal ahead of Alexandre Lacazette.
Nicolas Pepe, Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka are all options to play on either side of Aubameyang. Saka was impressive playing on the right side during midweek compared to the games he has played this season from the left side. Arteta, though, might continue with the England international on the left while starting with Pepe on the right flank.
Predicted Arsenal XI: Ramsdale; Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka; Pepe, Odegaard, Saka; Aubameyang