With Egypt’s AFCON qualifier win against Togo during the last international break, the fourth by an Arsenal’s player’s country that week, there could be trouble up ahead.
In isolation, of course I’m happy to see Arsenal players performing well with their countries. It is nice to see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring for Gabon or Nicolas Pepe getting a start in a win for the Ivory Coast.
But with Mohamed Elneny and Egypt also winning, whilst Ghana eased past Sudan without Thomas Partey during the last international break, I’m starting to see a problem on the horizon.
As it stands – with half of the group stage left to play – Ghana, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Egypt will all qualify for the next Africa Cup of Nations. They’ll take Partey, Pepe, Aubameyang, and Elneny with them to the tournament, set for January-February 2022.
That sounds like a while away, but it’s not. It’s next season. We have one summer window to prepare for the potential loss of four first-team players at once.
Not just any four players either. Three of them are in the club’s top-four most expensive acquisitions of all time. One is the club captain and was our top goalscorer last season.
Arsenal already have problems to deal with in the team, but now they need to ensure they end the next summer window with an extra striker and midfielder at the very least. Arguably at least two midfielders, given they already needed another.
The situation out wide is a little less problematic, with the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Reiss Nelson, and Bukayo Saka. But Pepe will be a big miss.
There’s no cause for panic at this stage, but it’s a problem we can’t just dismiss and ignore until it’s too late.
The next round of games take place on 22 March, during the international break with the next following just eight days later.
Ghana top their group at the minute, level on nine points after four games with South Africa. Gabon are second in theirs on goal difference with seven points from their four games but a worse goal difference by two from Gambia.
Egypt also top their group but, again, it is only by goal difference from Comoros (an island country in the Indian Ocean, at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel off the eastern coast of Africa).
Ivory Coast, meanwhile, sit one point clear at the top of their group.