Sunday, January 16, 2022

White? chambers? patina? Arsenal’s midfield options against Spurs were assessed with Xhaka suspended

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Mikel Arteta will need to get creative with his starting line-up on Sunday as Albert Sambi Lokonga is the only available specialized central midfielder in Arsenal’s squad

Currently, Albert Sambi Lokonga is the only specialist central midfielder in Arsenal’s first-team squad who is expected to be available against Spurs.

Mikel Arteta may need to get creative as he chooses his central midfield partnership for Sunday’s north London derby against Tottenham due to injuries, suspensions and the Africa Cup of Nations.

Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny are both at the Africa Cup of Nations, representing Ghana and Egypt respectively, Emile Smith Rowe has missed the last two games with a groin injury and Martin Odegaard tested positive for Covid earlier this week.

Granit Xhaka, who would likely have worked alongside Lokonga in midfield on Sunday, was sent off for the second time of the season in Thursday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. The 29-year-old will be suspended for three games after receiving a red card.

Although promising 18-year-old Charlie Patino is not listed in the first-team squad on Arsenal’s website, he could be in the action after making his debut last month and his first professional start in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat by Nottingham Forest to be bumped. As talented as Patino undoubtedly is, it would be a baptism of fire for the academy graduate as he has yet to kick a ball in the Premier League.

Alternatively, Arteta may need to fill the gap with a centre-back. While breaking the Ben White-Gabriel Magalhaes axis at the heart of the back line would be a wrench, White has experience in midfield, seven times for Brighton last season, according to WhoScored. White would be a more natural replacement for Xhaka than Patino due to his tenacity and ball-winning ability.

Unless Arteta is ready to disrupt his first pick at the back, he could hand Calum Chambers a rare Premier League start instead. The 26-year-old has only made two appearances in the league this season, coming on as a substitute on both occasions. However, like White, he has previously played as a central midfielder in the competition, on a regular basis while on loan at Fulham in the 2018/19 season. However, Chambers may need to play at right-back with Takehiro Tomiyasu doubtful and Cedric Soares injured.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles could have played in midfield or at right-back but was recently loaned to AS Roma for a season. During Thursday’s game, it was also reported that Arsenal had activated an option to call off 19-year-old Miguel Azeez from his loan spell at Portsmouth to complete the squad, although, like Patino, there will be concerns over his readiness for one high quality facility.

Arteta is looking to bolster his options in central midfield with the potential loan of Brazil international Arthur Melo from Juventus, although the 25-year-old would not be registered in time for Sunday’s game even if a deal were finalized by then.

Midfield isn’t Arteta’s only problem position ahead of the derby. Bukayo Saka limped away in the closing stages of Thursday’s game, with Arteta admitting the 20-year-old was “tired” and had “played a lot of minutes over the past few months”. Arteta’s attacking options are further limited by the absences of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe due to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Expected Arsenal team vs Spurs (4-2-3): Ramsdale; Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; White, Lokonga; Saka, Lacazette, Martinelli; Nketiah.

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