An Arsenal squad surprisingly fresh and with the added ‘Perez Factor’
It has been very frustrating to have an international break so early in the new season, particularly when the Arsenal team seemed to finally gain some fluency and momentum against Watford.
The plus side of course is that the club have had extra time to work on the injuries to Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey and also, unusually for a club of Arsenal’s stature, to work with several first-team regulars at Colney.
I can’t imagine the last time that Arsene Wenger would have had quite so many first-team squad or even starters not away on duty of their countries. In fact, if I am not mistaken, five of the eleven that started against Watford have been reporting for duty at Colney for the most part.
Santi Cazorla it seems is now surplus to requirements for Spain, as Nacho Monreal has been for a while. Hector Bellerin was not selected for the senior squad, although he did play on Monday for the Spanish U21s providing, a fabulous assist and came through unscathed.
Monreal picked up a knock against the Hornets, but his very capable back up Kieran Gibbs is also out of his country’s reckoning at present. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s indifferent form has failed to bring him into the new England boss’ thinking unsurprisingly.
Rob Holding was an unused substitute as the England U21s thrashed Norway last night. Francis Coquelin who has featured in two of the three league matches, was also, of course at home.
Given the above it is quite possible that half our starting eleven against the Saints will be fresh and then we have the Lucas Perez factor. Arsenal’s new attacking signing will have been training with many of his new colleagues for the past ten days and I am sure will be desperate to make is Emirates bow.
There is little doubt we will see the Spaniard against Southampton, but the question is will we see him from the start or perhaps in the second-half?
The question might be simpler to answer if we knew exactly what Wenger has in mind for his new attacking threat. Given his pace and work-rate, I am tempted to think that at least initially we will see Perez wide. I suspect that the manager will show loyalty to the in-form Olivier Giroud, who has proved his fitness for France, but who has yet to start for his club this season.
Whatever my view of the current Arsenal manager, we do know that, in the main, he will be true to the players who have a shirt, if they are performing. Gibbs and Mathieu Debuchy have found this to their cost in recent years.
For this reason; assuming no injury suffered against Slovakia, Wenger has no cause to drop Theo Walcott, for his new signing, and every reason to keep him in the side come Saturday. The same cannot be said for Chamberlain, who did little against Watford to scream, ‘keep me in the team boss’.
Walcott seems to have risen to the challenge in the first few games this campaign, and in a shot cameo for England, showed glimpses of the form that made his partnership with Robin van Persie so deadly. However it is far from just being the form he has shown and much more about the work-rate and hunger.
Sitting where I sit, so close to the pitch, I have too often witnessed a lack of genuine effort working back and what I can only describe as ‘a pretence’ of attempts to tackle back.
So far in 2016/17 campaign, back on the right where he has played most of his Arsenal career, he has added the ‘fight’ and tenacity to his game and in doing so he presents his coach with a pleasant dilemma.
For all the above reasons, I expect to see Giroud slot back in up front and Alexis Sanchez to move to the left and Walcott to play on the other side of Ozil. If the attack is from the left, Walcott should make every effort to become the second striker and if from Walcott’s flank, Alexis should be coming in to join up with Giroud.
In the second-half; Wenger, having watched the game unfold and I fully expect us to put Saints to the sword, can introduce Perez centrally for Giroud or on the left, replacing Walcott, with Alexis switching flanks.
I cannot see any change from Granit Xhaka and Cazorla in the centre and the combination is full of promise. Finally we have two players with great technique and of vision, with the full range of passing to accompany it.
Without Jack Wilshere, as we are now for the season, often both of these positions have been filled by very good players such as Coquelin or Ramsey, but neither of whom was likely to launch the Arsenal from defence to attack with one long pass of precision.
We now have pace to burn out wide and with these two and Mesut Ozil, three quarter backs make the play.