The start of the 2013-14 Premier League season is still almost two months away, but it's never too early to start thinking about how Arsenal might line up once it begins.
Who will Arsene Wenger sign? Which returning players will win starting spots? How will Wenger pick his team?
The first kickoff of the season is set for Aug. 17 at home to Aston Villa. Here are five possible answers to those questions.
Lineup graphics via LineupBuilder.com.
It's unlikely that Arsenal's starting XI will remain unchanged next season. Arsene Wenger has £70 million to spend on transfers this summer, per The Independent, and the Gunners have already been linked with several players.
But what if none of the deals go through? What if Arsenal's squad remains basically unchanged? How would Wenger pick his team?
Again, it's an unlikely scenario, but here's how I think Wenger would pick his first XI, based on a 4-2-3-1 system.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny.
Szczesny retains his place largely because of a lack of real competition for the No. 1 role.
Defenders: Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Bacary Sagna.
Koscielny and Mertesacker became Wenger's first-choice central pairing during the run-in last season. Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson are further options at full-back.
Holding midfield: Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta.
Attacking midfield: Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott.
Assuming Wilshere and Cazorla are healthy, they should start. Wilshere could also move into holding midfield, pushing Cazorla into the central playmaking role to make room for Lukas Podolski on the left.
Striker: Olivier Giroud.
Last week, the Telegraph reported that Arsenal were close to signing striker Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid for £22 million. On Tuesday, The Independent added that new Real manager Carlo Ancelotti was set to sanction the sale.
If Arsenal complete the deal for Higuain, the Argentine would likely slot into Arsene Wenger's starting lineup ahead of Olivier Giroud, who finished last season with 11 league goals. Higuain scored 16 in La Liga for Real in 28 appearances.
Considering Rooney's wage demands, securing his transfer seems less likely. But if he were to join, he could slot into the central playmaking role or play as a striker.
I've chosen to include Rooney as a playmaker, which seems more likely at this stage of his career.
French defender Laurent Koscielny, a rumored target for Barcelona and Bayern Munich, spoke to La Montagne (h/t ESPN) recently about his situation. "I have a four-year contract," Koscielny said. "For now, I am still at Arsenal."
That's not entirely reassuring, but neither is it a straight-out admission that Koscielny will leave this summer. This much is sure, though: During the run-in last season, Koscielny came into his own as Arsenal's best defender. Losing him would be a big loss for the Gunners.
Arsenal have a replacement in the squad, of course, in captain Thomas Vermaelen. Vermaelen lost his place last season after a series of poor performances but has declared his desire to fight for his place, per the Daily Mirror.
Arsenal have also shown interest in Swansea defender Ashley Williams, per The Sun, but Williams would be an expensive option at a price of between £8 million and £12 million.
Illarramendi played well in Spain's run to the European Under-21 title this month and would make a fine addition to Arsenal's midfield. The question is where he would fit.
In assessing Illarramendi's potential value to Arsenal, B/R's Sam Tighe argued that the Spaniard would make a fine replacement for Mikel Arteta. Arteta, Tighe argues, has played well in the No. 6 role but "is no natural."
I'm inclined to agree with Tighe, though it's hard to see Arsene Wenger dropping an experienced player like Arteta entirely. Most likely, he would add Illarramendi to the holding midfield rotation.