Many words have been spent about the impressive depth of our team this season, so I guess that Arsène Wenger’s forgotten men won’t have a better chance to show their worth than Saturday’s match at Old Trafford.
According to the latest team news, against Manchester United we’re very likely to miss all our major attacking outlets bar Mesut Özil – can you imagine a more probing test for our back-up players?
With both Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerín ruled out and Alexis Sánchez in serious doubt, it will be time for some of the usual second-choice options to take the main stage – and prove they can useful to a credible, sustainable title challenge by our team.
Get your replica wall clock here
As disrespectful as it can sound, players like Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny are yet to prove they deserve a starting place alongside Francis Coquelin – each for different reasons: the Welshman is still recovering from the thigh injury suffered against Liverpool and his fitness is a big concern, as well as his tactical discipline and reliability in a box-to-box role; the former Borussia Mönchengladbach man has delivered two impressive performances against Ludogorets and Tottenham but is still adapting to the team’s style of play and has a dangerous attraction for a clumsy tackle, something he already paid dearly in the Premier League, while the Egyptian seems to be one of those play-it-safe midfielders who don’t do anything wrong but also don’t take enough risks to create the much-needed spark in our play. I reckon his pass to Mesut Özil for the winner in Bulgaria was stunning but I can’t recall many more of those, unfortunately.
In a game where we’ll need to show self-control, tactical maturity and creativity, none of the above candidates really fits the bill.
Like it or not, Santi Cazorla is a unique figure in our team and none of our players has all the qualities to replace him – the closest to him being perhaps Granit Xhaka; the Swiss isn’t the most dynamic of our midfielders but has the technique and vision to dictate our play from deep, so my guess is that Arsène Wenger will choose him to replace the Spaniard. Will he be able to absorb the pressure and provide those lines-breaking passes that are Santi Cazorla’s trademark?
Talking about Spanish guys, Hector Bellerín will be sorely missed, too.
Already one of the finest full-backs in the Premier League despite being only 21, the former Barcelona youngster is one of our best outlets when we attack and his incisive runs will be impossible to replicate for Carl Jenkinson or whoever will be called-up to fill Hector’s shoes.
The English international is expected to start at Old Trafford but his performance against Ludogorets was alarmingly poor, although playing once in a while isn’t an easy thing to deal with.
While bombing forward isn’t an issue for Corporate Carl, whose crossing abilities are far superior to Hector Bellerín’s, his defensive abilities need a lot of work, as do his tactical reliability.
The other candidates for the role are the very unexperienced Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rob Holding or Gabriel, who hasn’t played in a month and isn’t exactly a full-back, so Carl Jenkinson is a firm favorite to start at right back – the question is: how will he cope with marking Martial or Lingard and assisting Theo Walcott when we have the ball?
Finally, Alexis: the Chilean has starred against Uruguay but was also substituted and needed an ice-bag on his thigh, a worrying sign for someone who’s not new to muscular troubles in that part of his body; of course he declared himself fit to play on Saturday, despite the injury and transoceanic travelling, but Arsène Wenger will need to be careful or we might end up losing our striker for several weeks.
We would miss his trickery, commitment and inventiveness for one game – although very important – but have him available for the usually very busy Christmas period. It’s a bold call to make for Arsène Wenger and an unpredictable one for us fans.
Should the former Udinese striker miss out (but he won’t and certainly tear his hamstring), Olivier Giroud will surely deputise for Alexis Sánchez and bring us back to last season’s gameplay with one target man upfront and runners going in from the flanks.
Not my favorite choice but the most natural one and probably the only one, given Danny Welbeck and Lucas Pérez unavailability.
We said we have one of the most complete and equipped squad in the league, we said Arsène Wenger has a plethora of choices both in terms of personnel and tactical solutions, we said we need every player’s contribution to go all the way in the league, so let’s do it – let’s show everyone that we can cope with three key players potentially missing.