7th January 2016: Sanchez still sidelined but Arteta available for FA Cup clash

Welcome back. As Arsenal prepare to welcome Sunderland to Emirates stadium on Saturday and begin our defence of the FA Cup, Arsène Wenger today revealed the latest team news ahead of the game.

The big news is that Alexis Sanchez won’t be risked as he recovers from his hamstring injury but club captain Mikel Arteta is back in contention for a starting berth following his own injury lay-off.

Discussing the latest prognosis for several of his troops, Arsène said:

The team news is that, from last week, we have no big injuries, and the squad will be similar to the squad who played the last game against Newcastle. Will a young player or two start? I haven’t decided yet. The bad news of the week is that Alexis is not quite ready. It is a precaution because of his hamstring, and it takes a few more days. He’s not bad but he’s not ready. Nothing’s changed [from the original timescale] with Santi. It could be a bit shorter with him because he’s often quicker [to recover] than you expect him to be. Cazorla and Coquelin are doing well. Tomas Rosicky is not far, he’s back in full training next week, so should be available soon. Mikel (Arteta) is available.

So Sanchez shouldn’t be far off, Rosicky’s nearing a first appearance of the season, Arteta’s back and Cazorla and Coquelin are making good progress from knee injuries – but there’s no word on Jack Wilshere or Danny Welbeck. That’s obviously a big concern because whilst Arteta and Rosicky offer depth and cover, the England duo are genuine contenders for first-choice selection, if they could just get fit!

Mohamed Elneny still hasn’t signed, so with the above updates in mind and considering we’ve heard noises about significant rotation; with Mesut Ozil, for instance, being given the weekend off so he can rest up for our trip to Liverpool next midweek, and perhaps a first competitive start for Jeff Reine-Adelaide after his two-goal showing for the under 21s earlier this week, I’m guessing we could line-up a little like this against the Black Cats:

Ospina

Chambers Gabriel Koscielny Gibbs

Arteta Ramsey

Campbell Reine-Adelaide Oxlade-Chamberlain

Walcott

My reasoning behind the selection is that Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker haven’t had a rest recently, whereas Laurent Koscielny sat out our win over Bournemouth. Also, Mathieu Flamini is our only truly defensive midfielder in the absence of Coquelin and I wouldn’t want to risk losing him to injury ahead of our game at Anfield.

Giving Ozil the weekend off completely, makes sense, seeing as he’s our best player, I can’t remember the last time he was rested, and we’re royally f*cked if he picks up a knock. And who doesn’t want to see Jeff play? Let him loose I say. A start for Alex Iwobi is another possibility and it was interesting to read last month that he’d been deployed as a central midfielder for our development teams. Yet if Iwobi does start, I’m guessing it’ll be on one of the flanks.

Elsewhere, rotating both fullbacks is a given, I’d have thought, and I would have selected Mathieu Debuchy at right-back, shifted Calum Chambers infield and rested Koscielny too, but seeing as Debuchy didn’t make the squad for our win over Newcastle as his future at the club remains uncertain, I’m not sure he’ll play against Sunderland.

If he does, then great, and we can rest our entire back four, but after Tony Pulis ruled out interest in taking Debuchy to West Brom recently, Aston Villa manager and former Gunner Remi Garde has revealed he’s spoken to Arsene about the fullback. Garde said:

I had a conversation with Arsène a few days ago about some of the players and Mathieu Debuchy was among these players. It’s too early and it won’t help me or anyone to go forward in this style to make too many more comments.

If we do allow Debuchy to leave, surely it should be at the end of the window, which would let us rest Hector Bellerin for the Sunderland game and the fourth round of the FA Cup – scheduled for January 30th – should we progress.

We’d be keeping an experienced squad option for at least the rest of the month and Debuchy would then have the remainder of the campaign to play his way into the France squad for Euro 2016 at another club – something he clearly values above helping Arsenal to trophies.

That’s about it from me for another day.

See you tomorrow.

12th December 2015: Premier League Preview – Remi reunion awaits at Villa Park

Welcome back. Signed on the same day as Patrick Vieira back in 1996, Remi Garde is famously one of Arsene Wenger’s first two signings for the club, but tomorrow at Villa Park, old allegiances will be forgotten as he faces us as a manager for the first time.

Garde enjoyed a fairly unremarkable three-year stay with the Gunners after signing from Strasbourg, but did win the Double with us in 1998, though as a bit-part player. He made 31 appearances in the red and white of Arsenal before injury forced him to retire in 1999. Anyway, tomorrow he’s no different to any other opposition manager, in the sense that I want us to give his team a good spanking.

In terms of how we’ll line-up, we should have the same squad that traveled to Greece for Wednesday night’s win over Olympiacos and as such, I’m expecting an unchanged starting line-up. If, for instance, Olivier Giroud’s ankle isn’t feeling 100 percent after he seemed to strain it early in the second half in Athens, we do of course have the option of bringing in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, moving Theo Walcott up front and giving the Frenchman a breather.

As for the importance of the game, with Leicester City not playing until they host relegation-haunted Chelsea on Monday night, we can go top with a win, displacing Manchester City, who climbed above the Foxes thanks to a jammy last-minute winner against Swansea this afternoon. Seeing as Manchester United lost today, we can also open up a four-point gap to fourth-place.

But the boss thinks only after the festive period will the table start to indicate which teams are likeliest to last the pace in the title race. He said:

I think you always see the real trend after Christmas. Of course every year you have a surprising team who is in the top four. Last year it was West Ham, this year it is Leicester. The question is always can they maintain their run. It looks like Leicester are producing the consistency and quality. The number of goals they score indicates to you, yes, they will remain up there and you have to consider them now as fighting for the Premier League.

And on tomorrow’s opponents Aston Villa, as well as the need for ‘focus’ from his own side, Arsene told Arsenal Player:

They have  Sinclair, they have Jordan Ayew, who can score goals like Gestede. They are a complete team. Vertout plays quite well, Gueye plays. They have young prospects like Grealish. I think there is a good basis for Remi Garde to work on and to stabilise the team. For us, after Wednesday night, it’s important that we straight away have a focus. I’m highly focused on the Premier League and I want us to manage to go from one competition to the other. That’s a sign of maturity as well.

Last season we beat Villa 3-0 away, then 5-0 at home before our 4-0 win in May’s FA Cup Final at Wembley, but this is a much-changed side we’ll face. They have a horde of new players, a new manager and despite being bottom of the league following a disastrous first few months of the season, they did manage a 1-1 draw at Southampton last time out, with many observers reporting they looked much improved. So tomorrow may not be as straightforward for us as it would appear looking at the standings.

That said,  I’m expecting nothing less than three points, Arsenal topping the table for at least 24 hours and then a full week to rest and recuperate before we welcome City to Emirates Stadium a week on Monday. Make it happen lads …

Back post-match.

COYG!