With the international break finally over, it’s back to business for Arsenal ahead of an intriguing month, not only for title aspirations, but equally a direct aim to finish top of Group A in the Champions League.
Having gone nine games unbeaten in all competitions following a forgettable opening weekend defeat at the hands of Liverpool, there is a genuine belief that this season can prove to be a different one for Arsenal. One where they don’t typically fall away over the Christmas months, and also a season where consistent performances can help fuel their Premier League title charge.
Despite that, it’s definitely too early in the season to be talking about capturing the title but picking up maximum points against lesser opposition is definitely a key issue that has eluded Arsenal sides in recent campaigns.
Swansea themselves are under new management in Bob Bradley, who is a promising appointment for a side looking at solidity to avoid a relegation battle that they endured under Francesco Guidolin last term.
In Arsène Wenger’s press conference, he was keen to talk about the availability of his first-team players whilst giving updates on the fitness of Olivier Giroud (toe) and Aaron Ramsey (hamstring).
Both players have barely featured this season thus far, especially Ramsey who hobbled off injured against Liverpool back in the middle of August. Wenger explained that neither player is ready for a full return, but Ramsey’s “not far away” having started a personal pre-season programme from scratch to build up fitness. Giroud needs to also build up his fitness, and has started jogging again after his injury.
On his opposite number, Wenger said that Bob Bradley’s appointment as Swansea manager is “good for the Premier League”, because it’ll help to “raise interest in the US”.
Mesut Özil is said to be thankful for the support and concern shown after he was substituted at half-time during Germany’s win over Northern Ireland but Wenger and his staff have already been told by the creative midfielder that he is “completely fit” to play.
Reports about Hector Bellerín’s long-term future at Arsenal have been never-ending, as Barcelona continue to monitor the 21-year-old’s progress. Bellerín, who still has three years left on his existing deal at the Emirates, is set to be offered another extension as Wenger publicly ruled out selling his first-choice right-back saying: “For me, his long-term future is here.”
Francis Coquelin is expected to return in some capacity, most likely on the substitutes’ bench, whilst all of the first-team players who went out on international duty with their respective countries have returned fit and are thankfully ready for action.
As previously mentioned, Giroud and Ramsey are still unavailable for selection. Neither is expected to return until potentially the end of this month or the start of the next. Lucas Pérez (knee), Chuba Akpom (back), Per Mertesacker (knee surgery) and Danny Welbeck (meniscus tear) are the other first-team absentees.
Alexis Sánchez, who played 180 minutes for Chile in their World Cup qualifiers over the international break, isn’t expected to feature from the start as Wenger is most likely to rest him in some capacity, avoiding the possibility of burnout with matches coming thick and fast in quick succession.
With an eye on Ludogorets in midweek, here’s the predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal; Xhaka, Cazorla; Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil; Walcott.
Swansea have started the season in rather poor form with only two wins in all competitions – both of which were in August – hence Guidolin’s dismissal so early in the campaign itself. After a successful relegation battle last term, it was always going to be tough for the Swans to establish themselves as something more than that, not least after selling key players such as captain Ashley Williams and André Ayew.
Players like midfield duo Gylfi Sigurdsson and Leroy Fer have shown their importance and stepped up to expectations of how Swansea should be playing, but it’s not clicked yet for the team as a whole and under new management, it will undoubtedly take time for Bradley to impose his tactical nous on the side. He has promised a new start and supporters will be hoping for an encouraging performance at the Emirates, even if the result isn’t one.
In terms of team news, Swansea will be without Nathan Dyer (ankle surgery), Fernando Llorente (rib) and Jefferson Montero (ankle). Federico Fernandez (groin pull), who didn’t feature in their 2-1 home defeat against Liverpool last time out, could potentially start at the heart of defence alongside either Jordi Amat or Mike van der Hoorn.
With that being said, Swansea have managed to upset many of the big sides in recent seasons and Arsenal are namely one of the most prominent. It’s by no means an easy game, but one you naturally assume we should prevail in. Which is why Swansea are both dangerous and will pose an unpredictable threat this weekend.
Possible XI (4-3-3): Fabianski; Taylor, van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Naughton; Britton, Ki, Fer; Routledge, Sigurdsson, Baston.