Arsenal are ready to kick their preseason preparations up a notch by playing Benfica in the first match of the Emirates Cup.
While both sides know that the match, though technically part of a "tournament," is nothing more than a friendly, Benfica are a premier side that have the depth to give Arsenal a good challenge.
It's just what the Gunners need after staggering through their match against the New York Red Bulls and completing Arsene Wenger's traditional Austrian training camp. The squad should be much more fit now and ready to get some game time under its collective belt.
The Emirates Cup offers a nice semi-competitive environment to do so, and Arsenal will play in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans for the first time since May. It will be, in fact, the first time the Gunners will have returned to the Emirates Stadium after winning the FA Cup in May.
Wenger has several selection dilemmas to ponder, although the many substitutions he is permitted will allow him to give playing time to everyone he wants to get out on the pitch.
The team was already stocked with talent in multiple areas, but the return of players from their post-World Cup vacations gives Wenger more options and more people he needs to get into fighting shape.
That, and David Ospina and Calum Chambers, the club's newest signings, make picking a starting XI very difficult.
In truth, there is little hope of getting the lineup completely correct, as even if a player does not start he will be given ample time either at half-time or during the early second half.
Here's how Wenger might arrange his team.
David Ospina might start in goal instead of Wojciech Szczesny, who played against the Red Bulls, but it might be a tad early for the Colombian, who only just reported to the club this week. He'll probably make his debut at some point, though.
Mathieu Debuchy is probably a lock at right back, as is Laurent Koscielny in the center of defense. But new boy Calum Chambers might well be given a trial at center-back, where he could play a role this season whether or not Thomas Vermaelen leaves the club.
It will be interesting to see how he performs there, although one should not get their expectations too high considering he only just linked up with the team and does not usually play in the center of defense.
Midfield is something of a crapshoot, with several players eligible to play almost every position, depending on what tactical experiments Wenger wants to try.
Mikel Arteta started the last friendly and Mathieu Flamini barely saw the pitch, so perhaps the Frenchman will get a chance to build his stamina as the new season approaches. Jack Wilshere needs all the game time he can get with Aaron Ramsey set to dominate the central midfield role for the foreseeable future, so it will be interesting to see if Wenger decides to have another look at him.
Santi Cazorla has not played in the central attacking role for a while due to the arrival of Mesut Ozil last season, but Aaron Ramsey very rarely gets to play further forward as well. Cazorla might get the nod because he is more likely to play this season, but it very well could be Ramsey or someone else.
Things get interesting up front, however. Alexis Sanchez is finally available for selection, and though he is likely unfit, it would make sense for Wenger to try to get him up to speed quickly.
The best way for him to get to know his new teammates and build fitness is by playing real games, and he'll need to be sharp right from the start of the season with Theo Walcott still out injured.
This could also finally be the time when Joel Campbell gets a chance to prove his worth. He has not hitherto been available for Arsenal's friendlies (and indeed has never played a match in the red and white) so he needs to be given his chance soon.
Though Olivier Giroud is likely to resume his striker role after returning to training, Wenger might want to experiment with Campbell on the right flank, where opportunities will be more plentiful at the start of the season and he is more physically suited to playing in the Premier League.
Of course, these are just the moves I would make, and there is little predicting what the boss will do. But we will probably see most, if not all, of these players during the upcoming match against Benfica and throughout the Emirates Cup.
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