Arsenal vs Southampton: Lucas Perez to come back into the team after ankle injury absence

The Spanish striker set for comeback after one month out, with Olivier Giroud missing and Alexis Sanchez due for a rest

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The Independent Football

Lucas Perez will make his comeback after one month out on Wednesday and is expected to start for Arsenal in the EFL Cup quarter-final against Southampton. 

The £17million summer signing has not played since Arsenal’s last game in the competition, a 2-0 defeat of Reading back on 25 October. He has been out with an ankle injury since then, but with Olivier Giroud out and Alexis Sanchez in need of a rest, Wenger was last night leaning towards throwing him back into the first team today.

Perez has only started three games since Arsenal surprisingly signed him for Deportivo la Coruna, and two of those were in the EFL Cup, against Championship sides Nottingham Forest and Reading. But he scored both of his Arsenal goals against Forest at the City Ground, more than two months ago, and is hoping to return to the score-sheet.

Arsenal raised some eyebrows when they signed Perez in August, back when their striker shortage was acute. Since then Giroud and Sanchez have returned to fitness, although Giroud will not feature owing to a slight groin problem. Wenger is weighing up whether to rest Sanchez, who has already started 17 games this season, the joint most in the squad, along with Laurent Koscielny.

Wenger said that the team for the EFL Cup game will be “a mixture of youth and experience, but 90 per cent of a first team squad”, and he will bring Carl Jenkinson back in at right-back. Jenkinson has started four games this season since returning to the club, and while he was rested for Mathieu Debuchy on Sunday, Debuchy picked up a hamstring injury, which was scanned yesterday.

Jenkinson spent the last two seasons on loan at West Ham United, and Wenger said that it would take more games for the 24-year-old to play with his old “freedom” at right-back. “I rested Carl completely against Bournemouth because he played two big games [Manchester United and PSG] and I felt he needed a breather,” Wenger said. “Mentally, three games in a week demands a lot.”

“You forget that it’s a big ask,” Wenger said of Jenkinson’s re-integration. “Carl is very conscientious and it takes him time to play completely with freedom. He needs a run of games to play with freedom, so the fact that he can get another game [on Wednesday], I think we’ll already see a different Carl.”

Jenkinson is likely to continue at former club West Ham on Saturday evening, and at Basel in the Champions League next week, until Bellerin returns from his ankle injury. The Spanish right-back is expected to be out for another two weeks. Gabriel will play at centre-back, likely alongside Shokdran Mustafi, while Arsenal will also include youth-teamers Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Krystian Bielik.

Wenger said that he hoped the team would relax after beating Bournemouth 3-1 on Sunday afternoon, their first win after three straight draws in big games against Spurs, Manchester United and PSG. “I felt it released some tension,” Wenger said, “because we were in a winning momentum and suddenly you only make draws, so it gets a little bit in the head of the players. Everybody’s conscious that this is an opportunity for us to pass another round and get into the semi-final. That’s what we want.”