After a morale-boosting Champions League thrashing over Ludogorets in midweek, which was hard work irrespective of the scoreline, it’s back to the rigours of Premier League football once more.
Middlesbrough are the latest visitors to the Emirates, and Arsène Wenger will be hoping for a birthday present in the form of three points from his side in Saturday’s intriguing fixture. Aitor Karanka’s side are currently on a winless run of seven matches (all competitions) and will be eager for some sort of positive result when they make the trip to north London this weekend.
In his press conference, Wenger gave updates on the fitness of Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, the latter of which has been described as “progressing well” and could potentially be ready to play at some stage against Sunderland next weekend.
Cazorla, who has played in all of Arsenal’s fixtures this term apart from the 4-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup, is a doubt to start as the Spaniard “got a kick” against Ludogorets in midweek.
On the ongoing talks with Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Ozil over contract extensions, Wenger said: “We are in touch and that is our desire. Ozil is in the prime of his career, we want him to contribute to the club’s future. I believe he is in the right place.”
In terms of extra recuperation time to allow his key players an opportunity to recover effectively: “I gave Ozil and Alexis extra time to recover over the summer, and I believe that was the right decision.”
Danny Welbeck, who wasn’t expected back until January or February next year, is described as “ahead of schedule” and will begin running again in a fortnight so could be ready for a return shortly after the New Year.
Granit Xhaka begins the first of a three-match suspension after his contentious tackle on Modou Barrow and won’t feature in the matchday squad, which will give Mohamed Elneny an opportunity to potentially start alongside Francis Coquelin as part of a holding midfield duo.
David Ospina impressed once again and kept a well-earned clean sheet against Ludogorets, but is expected to start from the substitutes’ bench with Petr Cech currently the undisputed first choice goalkeeper.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could potentially retain his place in the starting XI after an impressive display in midweek, whilst Lucas Perez and Alex Iwobi could feature in an attack-heavy subs’ bench.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Wenger sticks with Gibbs after a solid defensive display, or reverts back to the norm with Nacho Monreal. The Spaniard’s form has been indifferent this term and it’d be a deserved starting berth for a player who has had to be patient when waiting for his chance to play in some capacity.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal; Coquelin, Elneny; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Özil; Alexis.
As previously stated, Middlesbrough are in poor form and need a positive result to kickstart their season. Cristhian Stuani is the club’s top goalscorer with three league goals this term and they’ll be hoping for another effective display from the Uruguayan, who has settled into life in top flight football well.
With only one clean sheet in their last 19 top-flight away fixtures, there’s not much hope they’ll grind out a goalless draw or scrappy win but they’ve got plenty of quality in their side, which just needs unlocking.
The combination potential between Gastón Ramírez and Álvaro Negredo has already been seen on a few occasions this season but the Spaniard’s struggle in front of goal ultimately stems from a lack of service, which they’ll be looking to address sooner rather than later.
Calum Chambers is ineligible to play against his parent club, whilst Boro’s club captain Grant Leadbitter (hernia surgery) is back in full training but isn’t yet match fit. Fullbacks Fabio da Silva (fitness) and James Husband (shoulder), who featured for the u23s on Friday night, are unavailable for selection, but they’ve got no fresh injury problems and should field a strong side.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Váldes; Barragan, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; de Roon, Forshaw; Downing, Stuani, Ramírez; Negredo.