Arsenal could field superstar front three in bid to keep West Brom record intact
Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette to start together for first time as Wenger's side hope to catch up with top clubs in Premier League
There is a problem in playing last. Arsenal were powerless to intervene as first Tottenham Hotspur won, then the Manchester clubs and Chelsea did likewise, and finally Liverpool picked up three points.
In the weekend, as over the season, Arsenal find themselves playing catch up.
While their rivals have assumed their familiar places in the top five or six, Arsenal kick off in 12th place on Monday night.
They do so because of their record on the road, where they have taken one point from a possible nine. They actually have immaculate home form, both in the Premier League and in all competitions this season. With only two of their next six games at the Emirates Stadium, however, attention will soon switch to their troubles on their travels.
It was highlighted at the Hawthorns in March when a 3-1 defeat illustrated Arsenal’s enduring weakness at set-pieces – West Bromwich Albion defender Craig Dawson scored twice – and helped cost them a top-four finish. It contributes to the notion that Tony Pulis is not just Arsene Wenger’s antithesis, but his nemesis.
That may be the case, but only in the Midlands. Pulis has secured some notable wins over the Frenchman, but only when West Brom and Stoke City were at home. His record at the Emirates reads: played nine, lost nine.
He may be confronted by a man with three goals in his last three games against Albion.
Alexis Sanchez has begun Arsenal’s last two league matches on the bench but the groin injury Danny Welbeck suffered in the 0-0 draw at Chelsea opens up a spot in the front three.
Wenger has denied there was a “disguised attitude” in his decision to omit a man who had hoped to join Manchester City. Realistically, there was not going to be.
Include a £60 million (Dh297.5m) offer for a player who can leave on a free transfer next summer and Sanchez’s wages and Arsenal will in effect lose around £70m by keeping him for a year. That is not being done out of spite.
If Sanchez is costing them around £1.3m per match, he will logically play the majority of them.
Should Mesut Ozil, who is back in training after missing the Chelsea game, return in place of Alex Iwobi, then Wenger will start what had seemed his superstar front three together for the first time. When Sanchez and Ozil were chosen at Liverpool, Alexandre Lacazette was surprisingly named a substitute.
Wenger has long been accused of frugality but he can unleash an attacking trio who cost a combined £130m. Under other circumstances, that may have been cause for celebration. Not when the Chilean and the German, who have both rejected new contracts, could turn their backs on Arsenal at the end of the season.
Now there is an early reunion with one who has done that, albeit in different circumstances.
Kieran Gibbs lost his place to Nacho Monreal. His chances of first-team football were dented further by Sead Kolasinac’s arrival. And so, after 230 appearances, Gibbs decamped to West Brom. He seemed a typical Wenger player, the quick left winger he converted into a left-back, in the mould of Ashley Cole, but came to symbolise Arsenal in other respects.
Gibbs turns 28 on Tuesday but arguably he never truly realised his potential amid stagnation. His contemporaries Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, who are both likely to be on the bench, know how that feels.
History can repeat itself at Arsenal but, on the night that Gareth Barry will enter the record books for overhauling Ryan Giggs’s record of 632 Premier League appearances, they would settle for the familiar sense of beating a Pulis team at home.
It would help them catch up their peers.
Updated: September 25, 2017 02:50 PM