Selecting the Starting XI for Arsenal for Opening Day of Season vs. Leicester

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2017

Could this French forward really line up for Arsenal on the opening day of the Premier League season?
Could this French forward really line up for Arsenal on the opening day of the Premier League season?FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

It's not even a month since the dust settled on Arsenal's 2016/17 Premier League campaign and already thoughts are turning to next season.

The Gunners paid the price for a slow start last time out, suffering a defeat to Liverpool on the opening day that handed Jurgen Klopp's men the early momentum in the race for Champions League qualification.

In this piece, we look at the side Arsenal might be able to field on the opening day of the 2017/18 season against Leicester City—including a potential star signing.

        

The formation: 3-4-2-1

Arsenal's 2016/17 was effectively rescued by a switch from their customary 4-2-3-1 formation to a new-look 3-4-2-1 system.

From the moment manager Arsene Wenger made the tactical switch, the Gunners were a different team. They won nine out of their final 10 games, including milestone victories over Manchester City, Manchester United, Stoke City and Chelsea. It was also the system that enabled them to triumph in the FA Cup final.

Wenger must stick with three at the back next season. The system may not be in line with his attacking principles, but Arsenal look a more stable and cohesive team in their new shape.

           

The goalkeeper: Petr Cech

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Petr Cech of Arsenal with the trophy during the Emirates FA Cup Final match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on May 27, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Midway through last season, it appeared as if Petr Cech might be heading towards the end of his time as Arsenal's first-choice goalkeeper.

The veteran stopper was showing troubling vulnerability, and he failed to emanate the calm that had been his trademark throughout his time in England.

However, as soon as Arsenal switched to play three at the back, Cech was transformed. It transpired that what he was missing was not sharpness, it was protection.

With doubts over the future of both David Ospina and Wojciech Szczesny, Cech is all but certain to start the season between the sticks. With Laurent Koscielny set to miss out due to suspension, the 35-year-old may even be captain for the day.

            

The back three: Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding

Arsenal's main defensive concern for the visit of Leicester will be the absence of Koscielny. Club captain Per Mertesacker filled in admirably in the FA Cup final, but it's far from certain that he will play the first Premier League match of the season.

Arsenal invested a huge amount of money in Shkodran Mustafi last summer, and although he had a mixed maiden campaign, Wenger is likely to retain faith in the Germany international.

Mertesacker is an important squad member, but Mustafi is seven years his junior and represents the future of the Arsenal defence. The main thing he needs to work on is staying on his feet more, but at least when he commits himself in a back three, there are two covering centre-halves.

To his left, he might have Nacho Monreal. The Spaniard has spent most of his career as a left-back, but he appears to be settling into a new role as a centre-half.

Having initially struggled with the physical demands of the English game, he has now adapted into a rugged and reliable centre-half. Crucially, he is also excellent on the ball. Monreal is happy instigating Arsenal's passing moves from deep.

A real strength of this system is that Arsenal are able to field three ball-playing centre-backs—it makes them difficult to press.

Rob Holding was an instant hit in his first season with Arsenal.
Rob Holding was an instant hit in his first season with Arsenal.IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

Rob Holding is another defender with considerable technical gifts.

At first glance, he looks like a traditional stopper. He is tall, strong and good in the air. However, there is far more to his game than that. He is comfortable carrying the ball into midfield and is an astute passer.

Holding's introduction to the Arsenal team had a transformative impact in the spring, and he deserves to keep his place in the side at the outset of 2017/18—especially with Koscielny sidelined.

           

The wing-backs: Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin

Arsenal could hand a debut to their first summer signing, Sead Kolasinac.

The brawny defender played regularly as a left-wing back for FC Schalke 04 last season, so he is well accustomed to the demands of the position. With Monreal seemingly destined for a role in the centre, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international could step straight into the XI.

He looks as if he'll be a good addition. Not only does he have good stamina and upper-body strength but he is also an intelligent runner going forward. Kolasinac used to play as a midfielder, and he is willing to get to the byline regularly to provide width in the final third.

With Hector Bellerin on the other wing, Arsenal will have plenty of penetrative power on the flanks. Although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the first occupant of the right wing-back role, Bellerin has shone since stepping into the breach.

         

The engine room: Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey

Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey lining up for Arsenal.
Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey lining up for Arsenal.Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Arsenal's dysfunctional midfield was one of their biggest problems last season. However, once they settled into their new shape, the combination of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey began to click.

With a third central defender covering, Xhaka's weaknesses are disguised. Ramsey, meanwhile, thrives in the box-to-box role afforded to him. Hopefully this pair can build on their understanding in 2017/18.

         

The creators: Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal fans will hope to watch Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in tandem again next season.
Arsenal fans will hope to watch Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in tandem again next season.Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Another success story of the formation change was the freedom it afforded Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.

Although Alexis started the season in blistering form as a centre-forward, fielding him deeper allowed Wenger to get the most out of his creative potential.

Of course, right now the future of both these players is up for debate. They have 12 months remaining on their present contracts, leaving Arsenal vulnerable to bids from other clubs. 

Wenger should put his foot down. Even if Ozil and Alexis refuse to sign extensions, Arsenal need to keep their star men. Letting them leave would send a terrible message and realistically scupper Wenger's chances of challenging for the league title at any stage in the next two years.

          

The striker: A new signing

Let's indulge in a bit of fantasy. Arsenal are far from favourites to land Kylian Mbappe, but if they could pull it off, it would be the coup of the summer.

Per Rob Draper of the Mail on Sunday, the Gunners are attempting to rival Real Madrid for the French sensation's signature. Recruiting him would elate the Arsenal fans and create some genuine optimism ahead of next season.

France's forward Kylian Mbappe smiles during a training session at the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on June 12, 2017 on the eve of the friendly football match against England.  / AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit shou
FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Whether it's Mbappe or someone else, Arsenal need a new centre-forward for next season. Olivier Giroud has proved to be far more effective fro the bench, while Danny Welbeck lacks the clinical touch required to be the first-choice pick.

If Arsenal could manage to field this XI, not only would they stand a good chance of winning their opening day fixture against the Foxes, they would surely also improve upon their Premier League showing of 2016/17 over the course of the season.

            

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and follows the club from a London base.