Mikel Arteta knows exactly how he wants his Arsenal team to play, but his strongest XI remains a mystery.
It’s no secret that Arsenal will play 3-4-3 this season, a back three which turns into a five when they defend, and certain players have made themselves indispensable.
Bernd Leno, Keiran Tierney, Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are probably the first names on Arteta’s team sheet every week.
However, the other six places in the team are up for grabs, and Arteta has the luxury of fierce competition in every area of the pitch.
In the heart of his defence, new signing Gabriel is seriously threatening David Luiz’s first-team place with some excellent performances, the latest of which came against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup penalty shootout victory.
It looks as though William Saliba, the 19-year-old yet to make his Premier League bow, could be set for another loan spell in France this season.
Arteta said: “He had year last where Arsenal essentially loaned him to Saint-Etienne and that was a transition year for him.
“For many reasons, that wasn’t the transition year that he needed because he had a lot of injuries, he had some personal issues and obviously with COVID and the French league getting cancelled, he didn’t have that year, so he needs that year of transition.
“He needs that year of transition and we are trying to make the right decisions for him to make the best possible year of transition for him to have the player we want for our future.”
Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka, two versatile players who have earned their debut England call-ups this season, are battling for the left-wing-back slot.
In midfield, Arteta has been torn between Dani Ceballos and Mohamed Elneny as a partner for Xhaka.
If early matches this season are anything to go by, Ceballos appears to get the nod when the Gunners are at home and want to be a little more expressive.
Then up top, Alexandre Lacazette might have scored in every Premier League game this season, but his form hasn’t been overly impressive, and Eddie Nketiah is banging on the door.
Meanwhile, Willian appears to have made himself first choice on the right of the front three, over the likes of Nicolas Pepe and Saka, who can also play there.
With all that in mind, this is how we expect Arsenal to line up when the welcome the Blades to the Emirates on Sunday…
Arsenal team news
Given a loan deal is on the cards, Saliba won’t play, meanwhile Arteta still has several long-term absentees.
Shkodran Musafi, Pablo Mari, Gabriel Martinelli, and Calum Chambers are all definitely out, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos has returned to training.
Emile Smith Rowe will be fit soon but unlikely to be used against Sheffield United.