The rescheduling of the Premier League fixtures for TV coverage means that Arsenal’s season kicks off a day later than most teams. However, that match at home to Liverpool could still come too soon for a host of Gunners stars. The busy international schedule appears set to wreak havoc with Arsene Wenger’s pre-season preparations.
Aaron Ramsey is one of the men who could miss the start of the season. His Wales side were eliminated from Euro 2016 at the semi-final stage last night, and afterwards he told reporters that he will not report for training at London Colney until August 1. With the opening fixture just a couple of weeks away, he must be considered unlikely to be available.
Ramsey will not be alone in the late start. He’s been joined in the semi-finals by Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil—and at least one of those players will go on to reach the final, further delaying their participation.
Then there’s the South American pair of David Ospina and Alexis Sanchez, who both reached the last four of the Copa America. Alexis went on to win the competition, picking up an ankle injury in the process. Images of his black, blue and swollen limb have since terrified the Arsenal fanbase via social media. Arsenal could face up to starting the new season without four likely starters.
Wenger is a big proponent of affording players an appropriate lay-off after summer exertions. Quoted in the Evening Standard, he said: “You have the choice – you get them back very quickly and you lose them in October, or you give them a needed rest to build them up again”. Wenger can now talk from a position of experience—when he bent his own rules to include Alexis in the early stages of last season, he ended up losing him for a period of months once winter set in.
It could leave Wenger with a selection headache when it comes round to that Liverpool game. He’s already sought to help guard against that by prohibiting Alex Iwobi from competing in the Olympics with the Nigeria U-23 squad.
Some transfer activity could help too. Arsenal have added Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka, but with Giroud set to miss the start of the season the arrival of a new centre-forward becomes even more of a priority. With Danny Welbeck out injured, Theo Walcott and Yaya Sanogo seem the only plausible options in the current squad. For varying reasons, neither options will particularly fill the fans with confidence.
The one man who could stand to benefit from this situation is Jack Wilshere.
With Ramsey and Ozil both likely to be out, suddenly a space appears in the midfield for a player with his creative inclinations. Wilshere looked well off the pace during the Euros but with a full pre-season under his belt could have a chance to establish himself in the Arsenal side right off the bat.
It may be a promising scenario for Wilshere, but it’s a troubling one for Wenger.
Arsenal start the season with two difficult matches, hosting Liverpool before travelling to face champions Leicester.
Wenger will have to hope the rest of his charges come through preseason unscathed, as the Gunners can not afford to get much weaker.
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