We're back, ladies and gentlemen. Arsenal are playing football again.
The wait doesn't seem too long since we've had the World Cup to occupy us in the interim. But Arsenal have not played a match of any kind since their FA Cup triumph over Hull in May.
Though it's mid-July, it is time for the players to get back at it once again. All of the Gunners who participated in the World Cup are on break and will not be participating in this part of the preseason program, but we'll still get to see a very good coterie of players.
Arsene Wenger's starting XI does not hold anywhere near as much significance as it usually does. Aside from the fact that the club's match against Boreham Wood is an exhibition game being played to build fitness, the manager can use six substitutes. Everyone will therefore get some playing time.
Wenger has many things and players to try out in this match. Who will play center-back, as all of the usual faces participated in the World Cup? What's the right blend of midfielders? He certainly has options.
We'll learn which players the manager has his eye on early in preseason, and how far Arsenal have to go in terms of building their fitness. You can limit your expectations to that modest set.
Now, let's speculate about what Arsenal's lineup will look like.
As you'll quickly be able to recognize, this is a unique mishmash of youth team players and established veterans. That is because the manager is only working with players who did not go to the World Cup.
That causes problems at key positions, especially ones in which a new signing has been brought in. A manager always wants his players to settle in and get to know the rest of the team as early as possible.
It also presents Wenger with a selection dilemma at positions for which there is simply no non-World Cup replacement. Arsenal's only three center-backs—Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen—all traveled to Brazil, though none had a massive impact.
That means there is no natural center-back in Arsenal's first team who will be eligible for selection at Boreham Wood. To any rational person, it emphasizes the Gunners' need for an additional signing in that area, but that is a separate matter.
Ignasi Miquel looks set to get a chance to show himself off (though his stagnation likely marks the end of his Arsenal career). And Isaac Hayden might finally get to show the manager his stuff. Because who else is there?
Mathieu Debuchy is the only casualty at either left-back or right-back, so Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson are likely to get some valuable playing time.
The one area where there is absolutely no paucity of players is in midfield. Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini and Gedion Zelalem are all available for selection, but only three positions are available.
Either Arteta or Flamini could fill in in defensive midfield (although Wenger usually prefers Arteta, it's preseason so those affinities do not matter as much), but the other selections are a bit murkier.
Ramsey seems as good a candidate as anyone to resume his domination of the middle of the pitch, while it seems rational to give the young Zelalem a start, considering he did not have the opportunity to play much at the end of last season.
And yes, to reiterate, Diaby is fit and ready for selection.
The forward line more or less picks itself. Serge Gnabry is one of only two players listed as a forward on Arsenal's website who did not just come back from the World Cup, and he deserves a start anyway. His lower squad number this season is merited by his buckets of talent, even if he was denied opportunities last season by injury and circumstance.
As Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez are all on vacation resting their weary legs, the only genuine option on the left wing, unless Wenger wants to give a youth team player a shot, is Rosicky.
Striker is easy too, because Yaya Sanogo could use the game time and needs to impress Wenger. Plus, Olivier Giroud is not due to come back for a while.
This is a team that will quite clearly sweep Boreham Wood aside, but that, of course, is not the point.
Seeing the team in their brand-new kits, avoiding injuries and getting everyone one step closer to match fitness will make this friendly a success.
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