Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has tipped young attacking midfielder Serge Gnabry to make a late charge for a place in Germany’s World Cup squad, just days after his teammate Theo Walcott saw his hopes of going to Brazil 2014 with England fade away.
Walcott suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament that has ruled him out of both the remainder of the season and the showcase tournament in the summer. With the Gunners looking to maintain their Premier League title assault, Wenger has tipped Gnabry to not only shine in Walcott’s absence, but to make a late bid for inclusion in Joachim Löw squad.
“There is more than a small chance, there’s a big chance,” Wenger said ahead of his side’s Premier League encounter against Aston Villa on Monday night.
“We are looking at a guy who has good individual talent, he can pass people, is a good finisher, and has a very good football brain with good vision. He has great pace, he is two footed, he can finish with his right and left. He has a lot in the locker.”
The 18-year-old has made six league appearances in his time at the Emirates Stadium, but with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain only just returning to full fitness having made his comeback in an Under-21’s fixture last week, Gnabry is considered to be the leading contender to replace Walcott on the right side of Arsenal’s attack.
In terms of international competition, Gnabry would have a very difficult time getting into the Germany squad at present, with names such as Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Thomas Müller and his own teammate Mesut Ozil just a handful of names expected to feature in Löw’s squad.
While Wenger will miss the pace and goal-threat that Walcott poses, Gnabry has already demonstrated what he can over, sliding a perfectly weighted ball for Santi Cazorla to smash home in the 2-0 FA Cup victory over Tottenham last time out.
The Gunners have the opportunity to return to the top of the Premier League table tonight providing they gain revenge for their opening Day defeat to Villa, having seen Manchester City and Chelsea overtake them following wins over Newcastle and Hull respectively.
Gnabry is expected to continue his run in the first team, with Wenger putting his faith in the young German to shine at Villa Park.
“I am not afraid with him,” Wenger claimed. “He has convinced many people that he at least deserves another chance. He was influential in the Tottenham game and when I played him he has always had an impact on the game.”
Gnabry should start alongside a fit-again Olivier Giroud, after the striker recovered from an ankle injury and illness that has kept him out since before New Year’s Day. Wenger has praised the Frenchman for his determination to play every game for the Gunners, and has admitted his surprise at his ability to keep going when his body appears to be beaten.
“I was always there thinking: ‘I have to rest him.’ Then, on a Friday night, I always changed my mind,” Wenger said in making reference to Giroud’s fitness levels.
“He was a bit tired recently but now he is refreshed, he is back. He has qualities that the rest of the squad has not got.
"We have small players who combine quickly, so to find someone who can hold it, keep the ball, make some room for other players, gives us a very good balance.
“He reminds me of Alan Smith in the way he holds the ball up but also his distribution and goalscoring.
"He’s a tough, tough boy. Even when the medical people say he should rest, he says: ‘I’m all right.’ He needed five stitches after the game at Newcastle. He played the whole game with an open ankle injury and without complaining.
"And when I took him off, he didn’t want to come off. He’s always ready for a fight even when he’s tired.”
A visibly rejuvenated Wenger maintains that his side will still be in contention come the end of the season, and continues to go against the general opinion of the footballing world that both their nearest rivals will prove too strong over the course of the current campaign.
“They (Manchester City) are the favourites from everybody’s specialist eyes but we are here to deny that and, before this round of matches, we are in front of them,” Wenger remarked. “Nobody gave us any points. We have earned them.
“We need to continue to develop as a team because you could see against Tottenham that this team is still growing. We just have to keep a strong belief and I am sure we can do it.”
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