Arsenal have enjoyed a decent start to the new season.
They began the campaign with back-to-back wins over Newcastle United and Burnley. Results which meant they were one of two teams across the entire division with an 100 per cent record after two games.
However, that run came to an end at the hands of the other side with a perfect record – Liverpool.
Despite that loss there were some encouraging signs from Nicolas Pepe on his full debut, while Sky Sports co-commentator Gary Neville predicted the Gunners showed enough in their performance at Anfield which suggests they will fare better away from home this season.
The final game before the international break brought about a classic in the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur as Arsenal fought back from 2-0 down to earn a point.
At present a number of first-team players are away on international duty and head coach Unai Emery will hope to avoid any injury scares.
The break in the season also provides football.london with the chance to reflect on what is going with the Gunners.
Our Arsenal correspondent James Benge gave his thoughts on some of the big talking points surrounding the club in a Q&A session with fans on Thursday with topics ranging from injury news, contract talks and the latest on Dani Ceballos’ future.
Here is what he had to say on what is going on behind the scenes in north London.
Arsenal’s best 18-man squad?
James Benge says: “So I’ve gone for the following, provided everyone is fit:
Leno, Martinez, Bellerin, Holding, Sokratis, Luiz, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Guendouzi, Ceballos, Xhaka, Ozil, Nelson, Willock, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
“I guess the most notable absentee there is Kolasinac but if you’ve got Maitland-Niles in the squad you have a utility option that can cover both flanks and give you an option in midfield.
“The rest rather picks itself though I’d like to see Gabriel Martinelli and Smith Rowe get the odd appearance.
As for the line-up, personally I’d go for the following in a 4-3-3
Leno; Bellerin, Sokratis, Holding, Tierney; Torreira, Guendouzi, Ceballos; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
“For me Guendouzi is the perfect sitting midfielder, energetic and hard-working with a great eye for a pass. As for Holding, I simply trust him more than Luiz.”
Get the latest Arsenal news
Stay up to date with all the latest with all the latest Arsenal news from James Benge and the team at football.london across our social media channels.
Facebook: You can follow our Arsenal page here
Instagram: Follow our Arsenal page here
WhatsApp: Click here to enroll or text NEWS to 07557204612 and then add the number to your phone contacts book as arsenal dot london (case sensitive, with spaces) to receive daily updates and breaking news on Arsenal.
Your phone number won’t be shared with any other members of the group. Click here for more information on the service.
What is the status of our injured defenders?
James Benge says: “It’s good news all round. Rob Holding has been progressing well with the Under-23s and has been training with the first team since pre-season.
“He is expected to feature at some stage in September when the midweek fixtures begin in earnest.
“Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are expected back in training this month as well, both have been recovering rather swiftly. The latter in particular was ahead of schedule in his comeback.
“All three will be given time and of course they have had lengthy spells on the sideline so it may be a while before they’re back to their best.
“But it is certainly good news to have them around.”
What is the situation with Lacazette and Aubameyang contracts?
James Benge says: “The reports last month that Aubameyang and Lacazette had agreed new deals were, it is fair to say, a decent way wide of the mark.
“But there is confidence that both players will eventually sign new terms.
“From what I’ve heard that belief is somewhat stronger with Aubameyang; he’s obviously older and has found a situation he really likes in north London. I think he could imagine spending several more years at the club.
“His contract is also more pressing and requires more shrewd management (lucky Arsenal have Huss Fahmy and Raul Sanllehi). He is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the world but he is also in his 30s and has a game that is significantly enhanced by his blistering pace.
“If their experience with Ozil has taught Arsenal anything it is that they don’t want to be mired with a fading star on exorbitant wages.
“There will be a degree of creativity in how his new contract is structured.
“As for Lacazette, there are rumours that he would like to see what sort of market is out there for him. He will have noted the interest in him from Barcelona and could be keen to see whether another striker merry-go-round next summer opens up a slot at a Champions League contender.
“At that stage he will have two years left on his deal, Aubameyang one.
“However if they can fire Arsenal back into the Champions League then I would expect to see both of them stay put for a few years yet.”
Latest on Mesut Ozil?
James Benge says: “Ozil’s future is definitely in doubt. Obviously Arsenal are not going to offer him an extension on his current terms, he’s a fringe player who is among the best-paid players in world football.
“By the time his current contract ends in 2021 he’ll be approaching his 33rd birthday and it is highly unlikely that he will have grown in importance.
“There is no guarantee that club and player will agree on new terms, particularly if Ozil does not feature regularly under Unai Emery.
“If Ozil remains a fringe player the expectation is that he may look elsewhere for his future.
“It’s not for nothing that his representatives were holding talks with DC United, they may have been partly about opening a coffee shop at their stadium but it is widely known that there is more to it than that.
“Ozil is happy and settled in London but he will not want to spend his final prime years warming the Arsenal bench.”
Do you believe that Arsenal can spend a similar amount that we did this summer, in the next windows?
James Benge says: “In theory there is nothing stopping Arsenal having a similar spend next summer to this because in the end it really wasn’t that high, in the region of £45million before you add in the loan fees and small transfer add-ons for the final few deals of the European window.
“However if you’re wanting Arsenal to ‘be aggressive’ then it is important to remember what Josh Kroenke told us in Denver over the summer. Arsenal ‘have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now’; that won’t necessarily change until 2021 when the Ozil and Mkhitaryan deals come off the books.
“Whilst that remains the case there will be financial constraints on Arsenal.
“Get back in the Champions League and you begin creating the virtuous cycle that Raul Sanllehi loves to discuss: better players want to come which makes you better on the pitch, increasing revenue, improving your overall product which makes more even better players want to join.
“As for January, I wouldn’t expect big business. Sanllehi doesn’t like the January window and barring injuries there’s no gaping hole in the squad that needs to be addressed.
“There might be loan additions to plug holes but I wouldn’t expect much in the way of big-money signings unless something particularly tempting appears on the market.”
Could Ceballos join permanently?
James Benge says: “Arsenal had wanted to put a purchase option in the loan agreement with Ceballos but Real Madrid were having none of it. Why would they? He’s 23 years old and as Gunners fans have already seen his potential is phenomenal.
“There are a few cogs to the deal that might give Arsenal hope, though I’ll confess I’m no expert on the internal politics of the Bernabeu.
“However it is well known that Ceballos and Zinedine Zidane do not have the best relationship. If the Frenchman is still manager at the end of the year that strengthens Arsenal’s hand.
“A move from Real Madrid for Paul Pogba or Christian Eriksen would do much the same as indeed would another summer of dramatic spending that would force Florentino Perez et al to balance the books.
“If Ceballos does come on the market I’d expect Arsenal to move for him but at the moment Real Madrid see him in their plans for the future.”
Predictions for the season ahead?
James Benge says: “At the start of the season I said Chelsea would just pip Arsenal to a top four finish. It’s only four games and a lot can change but Chelsea look so uninspiring early on that I’ll have to change my mind.
“I still think it will be tight (and there’ll be other teams in the mix) but I think Arsenal should end up with a top four finish.
“If Emery can get that front three firing and make the defence less error prone I actually don’t see any reason why they can’t pip Tottenham to third.
“The top two are a long way out of sight but the rest of the league seems as close as it has been for a few years.
“As for Europe, I don’t see Arsenal taking it as seriously as they did last year but often the problem with the Europa League with a team like them is you can find yourself stumbling to the quarter-finals without overcoming anyone all that challenging and from then on you may as well go for it.
“They’re the best team in the draw right now so why shouldn’t they win it?”