The first matchday following an unprecedented winter World Cup in the Middle East is a pretty nice one to get you back into the swing of things, with Newcastle travelling to Leicester and Jesse Lingard returning to Old Trafford. But we have picked out Arsenal vs West Ham as the game of the matchday, and have decided to do a combined XI of the two.
Gabriel Jesus is not in as he is injured. Neither is William Saliba, who may or may not play after reaching the final of the World Cup with France.
The Premier League is BACK, baby!
GK: Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Arsenal’s number one and England’s number two or three gets the nod between the sticks ahead of Matt Turner, Alphonse Areola and Lukasz Fabianski.
Ramsdale has been very solid for the Gunners since they surprised fans by bringing him in for Sheffield United for a transfer fee north of £20million. He was written off before saving a shot but has proven his doubters wrong and become a fans’ favourite at the Emirates. His passion and s**thousery are a welcome bonus, made even better by how much it winds up opposition fans.
RB: Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal)
One of three awfully injury-prone Arsenal players to make this side, Tomiyasu is another who was signed out of the blue and has proven himself to be a terrific piece of business.
After being linked with a move to rivals Tottenham, Arsenal bought the Japanese international for a measly £15m on deadline day in the summer of 2021 and the only complaint you can have is that he is injured too often. The signing of Oleksandr Zinchenko and return of William Saliba have allowed this to be less of a problem, thankfully for Mikel Arteta.
Tomiyasu gets the nod for me ahead of Ben Johnson, Vladimir Coufal, Thilo Kehrer and Cedric. It is worth mentioning that if Saliba is available, he would be in this team ahead of Tomiyasu, with White being shifted out to right-back.
CB: Ben White (Arsenal)
Another player who raised some eyebrows when his transfer to Arsenal was made official; Arteta took a chance on White and signed him for a mammoth £50m. He has proven himself to be worth the risk, shining in the centre of defence in his debut season in north London before becoming a top right-back in 2022/23 following Saliba’s return to England.
Even if White has played on the right side of Arteta’s defence this season, he gets in this team as a central defender ahead of Nayef Aguerd, who had a brilliant World Cup with Morocco. This was perhaps the toughest choice to make, but I have no regrets. Other centre-backs to miss out are Craig Dawson, Angelo Ogbonna, Kurt Zouma, Kehrer and Rob Holding.
CB: Gabriel (Arsenal)
When Gabriel has a bit of a dodgy game, he has Saliba next to him who picks up the pieces. And when Saliba struggles, Gabriel is playing a blinder. It’s quite remarkable. Fingers crossed there isn’t a game where both are stinking it up.
Gabriel unfortunately missed out on Brazil’s World Cup squad while his club teammates and namesakes Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli skipped off into the Qatar sunshine holding hands. Some Arsenal fans were gutted, others were buzzing that he would be fresh for the resumption of the Premier League season with their team top. Some (me) were a healthy mixture of both.
The 25-year-old joined the Gunners from Lille in 2020 and recently penned a new five-year contract after an impressive 21/22 campaign and even better start to this term. He waltzes into this team.
LB: Oleksandr Zinchenko (Arsenal)
It is honestly a huge guessing game when it comes to knowing if Zinchenko will be fit. Rarely injured at Manchester City, the Ukrainian has spent the majority of his time in the capital watching from the stands due to various injuries. Having said that, he gets in this team, and if he didn’t it would be his teammate Kieran Tierney. Aaron Cresswell or Emerson Palmieri do not get near this XI, unfortunately for the Hammers duo.
You could immediately tell from Arsenal’s win over Crystal Palace on opening night how good Zinchenko is and why Arteta brought him to the club. He is a top player who is assured on the ball, and his ability can only make his teammates feel confident.
CM: Declan Rice (West Ham)
Yes. This is a combined XI. A West Ham player does make the cut. This is a player who would be a tremendous signing for Arsenal, actually. Or any top club in Europe.
Rice is West Ham captain following Mark Noble’s retirement last summer and leads by example through his ability and leadership. One of few England players on the cusp of being world-class, the 23-year-old is expected to move clubs next year and it would not be surprising to see him join another Premier League club. While he does seem destined to join Chelsea, you would fancy the Gunners, Liverpool and Manchester United to try their luck with a cheeky bid.
CM: Thomas Partey (Arsenal)
If Arsenal can keep Partey fit, they have a cracking chance of winning the Premier League. That is a big if, however, given his injury history since leaving Atletico Madrid in 2020.
He is a crucial player for Arsenal and has even scored a couple of scorchers this season after previously blazing every shot into Row Z.
CM: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
Xhaka’s inclusion actually means that Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard doesn’t get into this team. Shocking, I know. I love Odegaard, but Xhaka’s form this season in particular has been scary. I couldn’t leave him out. And Odegaard wasn’t getting in ahead of Rice. Nor could I not include Partey. An Arsenal team without the Ghanaian is hard to watch; they automatically become s**t. No Partey, no party.
Xhaka has reinvented himself in 2022, blossoming into a brilliant box-to-box midfielder after operating for so long as a No. 6. What a waste. Having seen him perform this season, I wonder what Arsenal could have achieved if he was playing in this position from day one?!
As a Brazil international, Lucas Paqueta should really have made this decision harder.
RW: Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
This was never in doubt, was it? Jarrod Bowen is good, but Saka is just so much better. He was arguably England’s best player at the World Cup and has been Arsenal’s best and most consistent player for the last two years.
Everyone loves him. He is just so pure. And one hell of a footballer.
READ MORE: Ten things we all completely forgot about this Premier League season before it triumphantly returns
ST: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham)
With Gianluca Scamacca and Michail Antonio doubts for the game, his team-mate Bowen gets the nod ahead of Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah – who has to perform very well for the next few months with Gabriel Jesus ruled out. You would not be surprised to see Arteta and Edu conduct some transfer business in January.
Nketiah is a good player, but I have to give the edge to Bowen, who has proven himself as a brilliant forward in the Premier League, although his form this term has not been great. Nketiah has three goals (none in the Premier League) in 19 games this season, though a lot of his appearances have come off the bench. Bowen, on the other hand, has scored five in 21 after netting 18 times in 2021-22.
LW: Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal)
The third Gabriel gets in our team ahead of Maxwel Cornet. No-brainer, really.
Arsenal fans were a bit frustrated with Arteta for not using Martinelli enough, but – like his Saliba decision – it has proven to be a stroke of genius. The Brazilian winger has fully recovered from his all-too-frequent injury concerns and is now one of the best in the Premier League. Kudos to you, Mikel.
This season, Martinelli has five goals and two assists in 14 league games.
Manager: Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
I have praised Arteta throughout this, but that doesn’t take anything away from West Ham boss – and the Spaniard’s former manager at Everton – David Moyes, who has had a brilliant career, and the job he has done at the London Stadium (second time around) has exceeded anyone’s expectations.
But Arteta has his side top of the Premier League, five points ahead of champions Man City. They are playing some beautiful football and look like a shoo-in to finish inside the top four at the very least. It will be very interesting to see how Arteta’s side do without Jesus until close to March, mind.
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