Arsenal’s injury-hit midfield is finally beginning to recover.
When the Gunners host Burnley in this weekend’s FA Cup tie, Arsene Wenger will have a couple of familiar faces available for selection. After some time on the sidelines, Francis Coquelin and Tomas Rosicky are now ready to return.
For Rosicky, this could be his first appearance of the season. The Czech international underwent knee surgery in August and has been unavailable ever since. Now, after getting some minutes under his belt with the U-21s, Rosicky is ready to take to the Emirates turf once again.
He’ll certainly be keen to make up for lost time. For a player who turned 35 in October, missing half of the campaign through injury was a massive blow. The remainder of the season could represent his final few months at Arsenal, and he’ll be determined to make a lasting impact.
Coquelin is at the other end of his Gunners career, having only broken into the first-team in the last year or so. Nevertheless, he’s already established himself as an integral part of Wenger’s preferred XI. Arsenal have muddled through relatively well without him, with Mathieu Flamini deputising, but there will be an enormous sense of relief when he takes to the field on Saturday.
Coquelin and Rosicky are likely to comprise two-thirds of a new-look Arsenal midfield, with the trio being completed by new signing Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian has been involved in the matchday squads for the Premier League games against Stoke and Chelsea, without yet playing a single minute. The Burnley match is surely a chance for him to state his box-to-box credentials.
At the back, one change will be enforced.
Per Mertesacker is suspended after his red card against Chelsea, so Gabriel Paulista is likely to come in to partner Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the defence. Kieran Gibbs should get a rare run out at left-back, while it will be intriguing to see who Wenger names in the other full-back spot. Hector Bellerin has played a lot of football over the last couple of months, and in real need of a rest. Ordinarily Mathieu Debuchy would step in, but with a few days left in the transfer window Wenger may think better of risking the want-away Frenchman. Instead, Calum Chambers could be asked to deputise.
Up top, Olivier Giroud is likely to be called upon again, having been withdrawn early against Chelsea. The centre-forward was clearly unhappy to be subbed off after Mertesacker’s dismissal, so should have a point to prove come Saturday. He responded to being dropped earlier this season with a spectacular fun of form, so Arsenal fans will hope he storms back from this minor setback in similar fashion.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to be given another chance to shake off the rust that’s clung to him all season long, and on the other wing Alexis Sanchez could be in line for his first start since November. The Chilean made a typically lively cameo from the bench against Chelsea, and could now do with getting an hour or so under his belt.
With a tricky-looking Premier League fixture against Southampton on Tuesday, Wenger will hope he can get away with withdrawing the likes of Alexis and Coquelin early enough for them to be in contention to face the Saints.
If they come through the Burnley game unscathed, Arsenal’s squad could look much stronger when league action resumes.
Read more from James McNicholas aka @Gunnerblog