Arsenal travel to Southampton for their FA Cup fourth round match tomorrow, but missing from the plane will be a couple of first teamers, leaving the Gunners thin in the middle of the park. Here’s how things stand:
-Santi Cazorla still isn’t fit to play.
-Granit Xhaka is banned.
-Mohamed Elneny is at the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt.
This means that Arsenal have two healthy actual first-team central midfielders: Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin. They are your most likely pairing tomorrow, but what lies beyond them, shrouded in the mists? Arsene Wenger provides an answer:
“After [Coquelin and Ramsey], we have Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Alex Iwobi can play in there although he’s not a defensive specialist,” said the boss. “Those are the options we have.”
Notably absent from the manager’s musings there is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has played centrally for Arsenal in the past, but unless Wenger just forgot to mention him, it appears that his days in the middle are over. This makes some sense given that dictating play with good decision-making isn’t really what Ox is about. If one had to guess, Maitland-Niles would replace Coquelin, and Iwobi or JEFF! would replace Ramsey.
Who would you like to see in midfield tomorrow, given the congested fixtures coming up? The top pairing, or some combination of youth?