Under-the-Radar Arsenal Position Battles You Need to Monitor This Season

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2017

Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette are set to compete for a first-team place this season.
Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette are set to compete for a first-team place this season.Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Olivier Giroud's success as a substitute has prompted debate about whether he should regain his starting spot in the Arsenal team ahead of new signing Alexandre Lacazette.

The battle between the two Frenchmen is likely to run all season—especially as the winner may well claim a spot in Didier Deschamps' France side for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

However, that is not the only tug of war over a starting position likely to occur at the Emirates Stadium over the course of 2017/18. In this piece, Bleacher Report looks at four duels for supremacy that could play out over the coming months.


Right Wing-Back: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain vs. Hector Bellerin

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11:  Teammates Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin of Arsenal celebrate following their team's 4-3 victory during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on August 11, 2017 in Lo
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin both started the Community Shield and each of Arsenal's two subsequent Premier League games. However, picking both players has not proved particularly successful, as it has forced one of them to play out of position on the left-hand side.

The issue is both are excellent options at right wing-back. Each man is incredibly athletic and has the technical skill to be a menacing attacking outlet on that flank. 

Sooner or later, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger will have to make a choice between the two. Although Sead Kolasinac has been playing at centre-half, he was signed as a wing-back and looks more comfortable when given attacking licence. It's surely only a matter of time before he assumes the position as Wenger's first-choice left-sided player.

That will leave Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bellerin to battle it out on the opposite side. They both have their strengths—Bellerin is more defensively secure and a better combination player, while The Ox is a superior dribbler and an excellent crosser.

Their fate may be decided by their willingness to commit to the club. While Bellerin signed a new deal as recently as last season, Oxlade-Chamberlain is into the last 12 months of his contract with no sign of an imminent extension. Wenger may well end up reasoning that Bellerin represents a better investment of his faith because he is the likelier to be at Arsenal beyond 2018.


Centre-Half: Rob Holding vs. Shkodran Mustafi

Arsenal's German defender Shkodran Mustafi (L) heads the ball under pressure from Southampton's Irish striker Shane Long as Arsenal's English defender Rob Holding (2nd R) looks on during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Ar

When Arsenal switched to a back three last season, it provided an opportunity for young central defender Rob Holding to step into the team. The 21-year-old ended up staying there for the remainder of the campaign, playing an integral role in Arsenal's successful end to 2016/17. 

However, there is increased competition for a place in Arsenal's defensive trio. Per Mertesacker is back after a season on the sidelines, and Shkodran Mustafi has also returned from a successful summer with Germany at the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Holding remains an outstanding prospect, but it will be difficult for him to hold on to his first-team place—especially in the face of competition from Mustafi. Both men look most likely to play on the right-hand side of the Arsenal defence, where their respective experiences playing full-back enable them to cover effectively in the wide areas.

For now, the German probably has the edge. After all, at £35 million, he is comfortably the most expensive defender in Arsenal's history. Wenger is not a manager given to spending huge sums on a player only to leave him out. Holding is young, and the Arsenal boss may reason that it would be better to avoid rushing his development and overexposing him.

Wenger may have given an indication as to his thinking in the recent fixture against Stoke City. Holding was left out of the matchday squad entirely, with Mustafi preferred alongside Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal.

However, Arsenal's defeat in that game might well offer Holding a chance to reassert his claim to a first-team place. This battle could run all season long.


Left Wing-Back: Sead Kolasinac vs. Nacho Monreal 

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06:  Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal and Granit Xhaka of Arsenal celebrate victory during the FA Community Shield between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 6, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Kolasinac has been an instant hit at Arsenal. His rugged style of play was always going to endear him to the Arsenal fans, and his physical attributes have added some much-needed steel to the side. 

Speaking about Kolasinac’s remarkable power, Wenger said, per Nick Ames of the Guardian: "Maybe he is the strongest. He is naturally strong. He uses quite well the strength of his body without violence, and when he intervenes, it doesn't look to be a foul. He just uses his body strength. It is an important quality to help adapt to the Premier League."

Kolasinac does possess natural attacking instincts. Even though he's played most of his football in England as a centre-half thus far, he stills find himself marauding deep into opposition territory whenever the opportunity arises. For that reason, he will surely soon be installed as Arsenal's first-choice left wing-back.

As for Monreal, he too has been playing primarily as a centre-back this season. However, with the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Mertesacker, Holding and Mustafi all competing for places at the heart of the defence, he may soon find himself forced to compete with Kolasinac for game time.

Monreal has been a tremendous servant to Arsenal, but as the younger man, Kolasinac has to be the favourite to come through in this content.


Playmaker: Alex Iwobi vs. Mesut Ozil

SWANSEA, WALES - JANUARY 14:  Alex Iwobi of Arsenal (L) celebrates his sides third goal with Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (R) during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Arsenal at Liberty Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by To
Tony Marshall/Getty Images

It might seem absurd to suggest a recent academy graduate could challenge one of the club's true remaining marquee players. However, as the season wears on, it's possible Alex Iwobi could become a genuine rival for Mesut Ozil's place in the team. 

Much depends on how Ozil deals with the imminent end to his Arsenal contract. The German has a matter of months remaining on his deal, and talk of an extension has gone curiously quiet. 

Ozil's commitment to the Arsenal cause has been questioned at the best of times. With the possibility of a free transfer at the end of the season looming awkwardly on the horizon, will he be prepared to go into vital challenges when crunch time approaches in spring? There is a major test of Ozil's professionalism and application ahead.

Iwobi's love of Arsenal is in no doubt. He was reared in the club's Hale End academy and would love to make the grade as a permanent first-team fixture. After an impressive pre-season, he's been a little unlucky to start 2017/18 as a substitute. If he can carry his summer form into the competitive campaign, he could be the player most likely to challenge Ozil for a place in the XI.


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


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