Unai Emery’s new-look Arsenal play their first “proper” game of the preseason on Thursday when they face Atletico Madrid in Singapore — a match that could offer a glimpse of how the Gunners want to play under their new boss.
Arsenal have already beaten Boreham Wood 8-0 at Meadow Park and played a couple of closed-door friendlies against lower-tier sides at London Colney, but those were really just glorified training sessions to give every player a runout. Atletico will offer the first true test for Emery’s side, and he is likely to take this game more seriously.
He only has four preseason matches to use to find his best lineup before Arsenal begin the Premier League season against Manchester City on Aug. 12, and there are still plenty of question marks that need to be answered.
With that in mind, here are five things to look for in Thursday’s game …
Laca and Auba together?
The early signs indicate that Emery wants to play strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette together, probably with the former out wide while the Frenchman plays up front. That’s a decision that would surely please a lot of fans, although it’s still unclear if he can fit those two, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all into the same side. But if the pair both start against Atletico, it’s one more reason to think Emery wants them to co-exist.
Ozil will surely be heavily scrutinised in the wake of his decision to retire from the German national team, but don’t be surprised if the playmaker is on the bench. After joining up late following his post-World Cup holiday, Ozil has only had three days of training sessions with the squad compared to more than two weeks for most other players. That means Emery may be reluctant to throw him straight into a game before he has a chance to get back to full fitness. In other words, don’t read too much into it if Ozil doesn’t start.
Can Sokratis handle the pace?
New signing Sokratis Papastathopoulos enters the season facing high expectations from fans after being handed the unenviable task of shoring up Arsenal’s leaky back four. The Greek veteran is likely to be a starter at centre-back but there are some questions about whether the 30-year-old can handle the pace of the Premier League. He struggled to keep up with Boreham Wood’s forwards at times, and the Atletico game should offer another indicator of whether his pace is a real concern or whether he was just a bit rusty against the National League side.
Emery insists he has yet to pick a No. 1 goalkeeper, and the two games in Singapore — Arsenal also face Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday — could help make up his mind. Petr Cech and newcomer Bernd Leno are likely to start one game each this week, with third-choice Emiliano Martinez probably getting some playing time as well. So the starter against Atletico won’t necessarily be the favourite to be in goal against Manchester City, but the keeper who impresses most in Singapore will certainly put himself in a good position.
Will Lucas take his chance?
Lucas Perez had become a bit of a forgotten man at Arsenal after he failed to establish himself as a regular under Arsene Wenger and was shipped back to Spain on loan after just one season at the Emirates. And with Lacazette and Aubameyang now ahead of him in the pecking order, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Spanish forward sold before the end of the transfer window. But this is his chance — and probably his last chance — to prove he can still have a role to play in Emery’s team, perhaps as an option out wide in a squad that has no natural wingers.