17 November 2013

Ox's setback means it's Gnabry's time to shine

Disappointing news out today reveals that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose return from injury was initially predicted to be three months, won't return until some point in 2014. It doesn't seem like he's re-aggravated the injury, just that recovery is taking longer. He can't even start training until mid-December, so the original prediction that he might return by the end of November now sounds hopelessly optimistic, and the earlier reports that suggested a six-month absence sound more accurate. The knee injury, originally suffered on 20 August against Aston Villa, might keep Ox out of action until February. Whether this might affect plans for the January transfer-window is subject for debate. Theo Walcott could be ready in time to face Southampton (23 November), but it's more likely that we could see Serge Gnabry at some during the match, and why not? He may be only eighteen, but he's shown confidence and maturity beyond those years, and the skill-set he brings could come in handy against a stubborn Southampton side that has conceded only five goals so far this season.

The attacking midfield against Man U included Cazorla, Ramsey, and Özil, but this trio proved unable to finally unlock Man U's defense or test de Gea even after the departure of Vidić softened them up, at least theoretically. While Cazorla, Ramsey, and Özil are tricky and creative with the ball, none of them presents the direct, aggressive pace that Gnabry can bring. While he may not be as fleet as Walcott or Ox, he adds strength to the mix. Among the three, he may just possess the most technical ability, not that he'd make anyone forget, say, Özil with the ball at his feet. However, his bag of tricks is deep, and he's not afraid to go at or around defenders. And if finesse or speed aren't quite enough, he has the strength to overpower them. Arsène pointed out that "we have some other boys who have the technical quality to play in the Premier League but are not resistant enough yet to compete physically, but Gnabry has that." At 1.73m and 73 kg, he may not have much weight to throw around, but he's solid enough to more than hold his own. While we've worried about Theo's finishing, Gnabry has shown in the past that he does possess a Podolski-esque cannon, as he showed against France's u18s (see video above).

For as much as we've fretted about depth, there's a scintillating plethora of options we have for the attacking midfield, even with Podolski, Ox, and Walcott unavailable. With Wilshere, Özil, Cazorla, and Ramsey, it can get a bit crowded in there. However, Gnabry has some tantalizing talents that should be enough to earn him some playing time, whether it's as a starter or subbing on to take advantage of weary defenses.

The early signs suggest that, when given the chance, he'll make a convincing case for featuring more regularly. If he can deliver more goals like the one against Swansea (which made him the second-youngest player to score a Prem goal for Arsenal), he could show that it's not just blockbuster German transfers who can offer exhilarating football. In 2011, aged 14, he joined the Academy after leaving Stuttgart for £84k. He signed a new contract in October, good through 2018, and had this to say :
Arsenal is a great football club and I’m so happy to be here and sign a new contract. For me, now it’s all about working hard and developing my game. I’ve had some good opportunities recently in the first team, which has given me extra confidence, and this will only improve my game. I’m looking forward to giving my best for this club in the years to come.
Having made the leap to the first team, Serge is looking to make good on his promise and potential; I hope he gets a chance when Southampton comes to the Emirates on Saturday.

'Til next time...