28th January 2016: Squad takes three steps closer to full strength

Welcome back. With the winter transfer window coming to a close in a few days’ time, it’s looking increasingly likely that Mohamed Elneny will be the only addition to our first-term squad this month.

But when you consider today’s update from Arsene Wenger on our injury list, which confirmed that Francis Coquelin, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky are all back in full training, it’s difficult to highlight an area in which we’re lacking in options, even if you could argue we can be improved in terms of quality.

That said, with Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla still on the treatment table, I suppose our best two ‘passers’ from the middle of the park are unavailable, if you assume that Elneny will be more of a defensive option and Mikel Arteta is no longer up to the task. So if pushed, I’d say that’s the one potentially problem-position we need to find a solution for in the short-term, until Jack and Santi are ready to return.

Who knows, perhaps Elneny will show he can step in and circulate the ball like Cazorla, or Aaron Ramsey can alter my perception that passing is his weakest attribute by playing it around like Andrea Pirlo in his pomp. However we look to cover for Cazorla’s absence though, I think our results in January suggest we need to try something other than the Mathieu Flamini-Ramsey combination in there.

Anyway, here’s what Arsene said about team news ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Burnley at Emirates stadium when he spoke to the official site:

Mertesacker is out because of the red card, and everybody else is available, apart from Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. After that it is just a question of selection and decision-making, that is the key. Jack and Santi are progressing well but they are at least a few weeks away. But these two apart, it is just about competitiveness and match fitness. Danny Welbeck is not completely ready but he is not far. He needs a game or two because he’s been out since last April. The Stoke [under-21] game is too soon because he only had one session with the team, and that is too short. Francis is available to play now because he has passed two weeks of full training. Tomas is also available for selection.

I’m sure we’ll get more clues as to which players might start against Burnley when the boss holds his press conference tomorrow morning, but we’ll no doubt be rotating the squad quite a bit, especially when you consider we host Southampton in the league on Tuesday.

Elsewhere Per Mertesacker, who as the boss mentions above will be suspended this weekend after falling victim to Diego Costa, er, falling over thin air, has been speaking to the Arsenal Weekly podcast about leadership, energy, managing the loss of players to injury, the squad’s development, mental strength aaaaaaaaaaaand team spirit – i.e the usual. He said:

There’s always a balance between having good leaders and a good team, but everyone needs to lead. Everyone needs to lead, to talk and give energy to the squad. It’s a balance and you don’t want to do too much or exaggerate at times, you just have to get the team going at times. In general we have a good balance in the team and a good squad. We’ve still got players coming back from injury but we’ve never complained about it, that is the main reason for our success. Players have stepped up, brought their energy and we’ve got the results as well. We won¹t look back on players being injured as a negative because other players have stepped up, especially this season. We’ve kept the same squad and we have obviously made some great additions over the past two years. In general, the team spirit has grown a lot. We are competing at the top and that’s something that was not always the case when I joined. The team is much stronger and mentally stronger as well. There are a few steps to go, the season is always long and to get consistency is never easy. There are challenges ahead of us but they make us even stronger, and I must say that the team spirit in the squad is huge at the minute.

Hands up who instantly pictured William Gallas lecturing his Arsenal team-mates in a pre-game huddle some years back when they read “you don’t want to do too much or exaggerate at times”?

Well I did, and it just reminded me that even if Gallas was arguably a better centre-half than Mertesacker, he didn’t have half the personality the German does. Sometimes, that can be more valuable to a team than ability.

Back on Friday.

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