Speaking ahead of the weekend fixture against Stoke, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger revealed the team news. It has been a week since our last fixture, the 2-0 home win against Hull City in the FA Cup and the players have been able to rest and train in peace after the hectic schedule during the festive season. And there is more good news on the injury front, with three players returning to training this week.
German playmaker Mesut Ozil is the biggest name on that list. The World Cup winner has been sidelined for nearly three months and the last game that he played for us was the 2-0 defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Having him back in the side allows the manager to be more flexible tactically and with the skill of Ozil and the hot form of Santi Cazorla, our forwards are going to have even more opportunities in front of goal.
Aaron Ramsey has also returned to light training. The Welshman, so frequently a hero last season, has had a relatively quiet season so far this time around, but his talent and importance to the team cannot be denied. In his absence, we were forced to play attack minded players like the Ox in deeper positions, something that benefits absolutely nobody. The return of Ramsey allows us to have a more stable midfield and of course his goal scoring threat cannot be denied.
French midfielder Mathieu Flamini also returns to training this week. The veteran is our most experienced holding player and provides much needed cover for our misfiring defence. If Wenger chooses to deploy him and the impressive Francis Coquelin in tandem, we might actually be able to keep a clean sheet or two.
This is what the manager had to say:
The team news is that Ramsey (hamstring) is back in training, Ozil (knee) is back in training and Flamini (groin) is back in training. We’ve got three players back. Welbeck (thigh) is still not available for Sunday because he is a bit short. Maybe next week he will be available. Giroud is back from suspension. So we have a bigger squad than last week.
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He [Ozil] will have a training session on Friday with the squad. He will certainly be available for selection on Sunday. Will I start him or not? I haven’t decided yet.
While it is unlikely that any of these three will be able to play the complete match on Sunday, they may make substitute appearances. It also will allow the manager to finally start rotating players properly, something that has not been done at all this season. Also, I cannot wait for the day that we see a frontline of Sanchez, Welbeck and Walcott lining up with Ozil supplying them, though it appears to be getting closer.
As far as Welbeck goes, he will probably remain sidelined for at least another week, though the return of Giroud from suspension means that we will be able to play the French striker up front with Sanchez dropping back into midfield again. With the current strength of the squad, we should now have no problems in beating Stoke and extracting some measure of revenge for the humbling 3-2 loss suffered last month.