Ian Wright snubs Nicolas Pepe and three more Arsenal aces as Gunners icon names ‘best XI’

Ian Wright has named what he thinks is Arsenal’s best starting eleven following the summer signing of Thomas Partey – but has left four Mikel Arteta regulars out of it. The Gunners snapped up Partey from Atletico Madrid earlier this month in a £45million deal, paying up his release clause in the final hours of the summer transfer window to leave the La Liga club furious.

The deal is a significant coup for Arsenal, who do not have Champions League football at the Emirates, and Partey could come straight into the side this weekend away at Manchester City.

Partey provides a significant upgrade in midfield given his abilities not just defensively but offensively, his qualities on the ball making him a fierce threat driving through the lines at the opposition defence.

And it is no surprise that Arsenal icon Wright is enthused by his signing, speaking on The Kelly and Wrighty Show: “I think when you look at the Thomas Partey signing, it’s the kind of signing where that’s who we wanted.

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“We’re not talking about a midfielder where people may feel is just a stopper and a destroyer and then pass the ball to the next man. This guy can progress the ball.

“And the problem that Arsenal have had is that, as well as Dani Ceballos can play on the ball and as well as [Granit] Xhaka produces nice passes, they don’t progress it. And that’s what Thomas Partey will do.

“He’ll get the ball into nice areas, he can run with the ball and pass the ball and hopefully he can activate the right-hand side just as much as Arsenal’s left-hand side.

“What Mikel Arteta wants to do – and, yes, they do play to play counter-attacking because at the end of the day we have to stay deep because we’ve got the pace up front to hurt teams – but now you get a midfielder where we can say: ‘If we win it, we can be a little more constructive’.

“Because you can’t have a player like Aubameyang scoring two goals in one game and then in another game he’s totally isolated.

“So you’ve got a midfielder now who can, alongside someone like Willian and hopefully [Nicolas] Pepe will continue to get better, people who can create further forward up the pitch.

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“The thing with him having to play at Atletico Madrid is that, yes, he’s had to play a different kind of way but I think he was actually suppressed at Atletico Madrid because of the kind of midfielder he is.

“I think people may feel he’s a different kind of player and that’s why they might think he’s just one of those destroyers.

“He’s totally the opposite and that’s what I’m excited to see from him.”

Naming what he believes to be Arsenal’s best eleven after the addition of Partey, the former striker named Granit Xhaka alongside the Ghanaian rather than the on-loan Dani Ceballos in a 3-4-3 formation.

Spain international Ceballos rejoined on loan from Real Madrid this summer and has started two of the last three Premier League matches, with his influence missed in the defeat at Liverpool.

Either side of Partey and Xhaka, Wright names Hector Bellerin as the right-sided wing-back with Bukayo Saka operating down the left, meaning there is no room for Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

The versatile midfielder was the subject of interest from multiple clubs in the summer with a bid rejected by Wolves but Arteta kept him at Arsenal following a brilliant display in the Community Shield win over Liverpool.

The 23-year-old, now a full England international, has started twice as the left-sided wing-back, though was dropped for Saka against West Ham and was an unused substitute as Arteta instead deployed a 4-3-3 against Sheffield United with Kieran Tierney at left-back and Ceballos, Mohamed Elneny and Saka.

Elneny, a surprise addition to the team following his stint on loan at Besiktas last term, is another who has no place in Wright’s best team.

In defence, the player-turned-pundit picks Tierney as the left-sided right-back, David Luiz in the middle and £27m summer signing Gabriel Magalhaes on the right – although he is left-footed.

That leaves out the right-footed Rob Holding, who had started all three Premier League matches this season that Arsenal used a back three before being dropped to the bench against the Blades last time out.

Holding appears to be the Spanish manager’s first-choice option on the right when using a 3-4-3 system.

In the front three is perhaps Wright’s most high-profile snub, however, as he names Alexandre Lacazette as the No 9 with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left and Willian down the right.


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That leaves no place for club-record signing Nicolas Pepe, who cost £72m a year ago, despite the Ivorian scoring the crucial second goal in the win over Sheffield United in the last match.

Wright does however make note of the 25-year-old right winger’s form and insists if he can keep it up, he will displace summer acquisition Willian.

He added: “I’d love to see this team because I think that starting XI playing at the top of their game, maybe Pepe could take Willian’s place if he continues his form, but you look at that left side it’s awesome, natural.

“Those three guys there, Xhaka, Saka and [Kieran] Tierney are all left-footed so there’s a natural balance there and Aubameyang coming in off the left.

“You’ve got Willian, Partey will be coming through, Gabriel, with the experience of David Luiz there, Hector Bellerin is playing some of his best football.

“I’m really pleased to see him back to something like we know how good he is and I think [Cedric] Soares is maybe pushing him and that’s a good thing. That, for me, is Arsenal’s strongest team, maybe with Pepe in it.”

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