German world-beaters on way back to bolster Arsenal’s growing confidence
The return of Per Mertesacker, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski will allow manager Arsene Wenger to rotate his squad for the coming games
Wednesday 20 August 2014
Arsenal have started the season almost as well as they could have hoped – with two wins, one creditable draw and one trophy – and yet they are already poised for serious reinforcement.
Their three members of Germany’s World Cup-winning squad, who returned to training after everyone else, are nearing full readiness. Per Mertesacker, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski might not all play at Goodison Park this Saturday – it is not exactly a gentle return – but Arsenal will certainly be strengthened by access to their defensive leader, their record signing and their purest finisher.
Those returning weltmeister will allow Arsène Wenger to make changes to a team that has not altered much across their three games so far this season. Jack Wilshere has played all three and, after a tiring 90 minutes against a feisty Besiktas side on Tuesday night, he revealed how much the squad – who will probably be without their injured captain Mikel Arteta for the next two weeks – would be improved by Mertesacker, Özil and Podolski.
“I think it will do,” Wilshere said, when asked if it would encourage his team-mates. “With Germans anyway they’ve got fantastic mentality, you saw that last year, they’re great characters on the training ground and great players as well. It will be good having them back and will make our squad stronger.”
The likeliest arrival in Saturday’s team is Mertesacker, even if that means the dropping of the precocious Callum Chambers. It is easy to forget that Arsenal have started the season with only one available senior centre-back. Thomas Vermaelen, of course, has been sold to Barcelona and his replacement, to deputise for Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, is the same man many thought had merely come to replace Carl Jenkinson.
Tuesday’s game in Istanbul was, remarkably, only Chambers’ third at centre-back, since his summer move from Southampton, and was his debut in the Champions League. But he held his own against Demba Ba, reassuring Wenger – who admitted on Tuesday he was “worried” by a lack of defensive numbers – that he has a future in that position.
Promise is one thing, though, and experience quite another, and there is no doubt that Mertesacker will return to the team if fully fit this weekend. Mertesacker is almost 11 years older than Chambers, has a whole international career behind him – 104 caps, one World Cup winners’ medal – and has anchored Arsenal for the past few seasons, along with Koscielny.
Özil is less likely than Mertesacker to be thrown straight into the intensity of Everton away this weekend. Arsenal have used a 4-3-3 system so far this season, rather than last year’s 4-2-3-1, without a place for a traditional No 10. While Wenger could use Özil out wide, he might well prefer Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez in those roles this weekend. Next Wednesday, against Besiktas at home, would be a better opportunity to return to 4-2-3-1 and Özil’s perfect role.
Any worries that the arrival of Sanchez will somehow usurp Özil must be wide of the mark, though. One of Özil’s problems last season was a lack of runners away from him, but now Arsenal have the pace and strength of Sanchez, whether centrally or out wide, they guarantee more runs that Özil can spot.
This was meant to be the role Podolski played at Arsenal but the story of his two seasons at the Emirates is one of a player who can punish weaker teams but rarely succeeds against the best.
Arsenal’s system, whether 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, needs more work off the ball than Podolski can give them and so his return to the first team is likeliest for simpler fixtures, if his sharper team-mates are in need of a rest. He has two years left on his Arsenal contract and the lack of an extension is telling.
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