Who will lose their place when Arteta returns for Arsenal?

Arteta Free Kick

Arsenal secured their first win of the Champions League group stages on Wednesday evening via their 2-1 away victory away in Marseille.

Another stellar performance from the man of the moment Aaron Ramsey capped off a solid and focused display from the Gunners who went ahead in the second half via a Theo Walcott volley against the hosts.

Walcott opened his account this term with the goal following a number of missed chances in the last week but manager Arsene Wenger praised the strike, which put his team ahead.

Arsenal are still missing a number of key players through injury – most notably midfielder and vice-captain Mikel Arteta who is expected to return for contention in Wenger’s midfield in the next week or two after missing the campaign so far with a thigh strain.

The 31-year-old Spaniard was one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers last term, operating as the most defensive of the French boss’ midfield trio, featuring in 43 games, scoring 6 goals, making 8 assists with an overall pass completion rate higher than any other player in the Premier League (92% accuracy).

Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey is 'Rambo' - Exclusive pic

The Gunners have now won every game, 6 in total, since their 3-1 opening day defeat to Aston Villa at the Emirates and Wenger may find himself with something of a selection headache when Arteta becomes available.

Aaron Ramsey picks himself at the moment – the Welshman has scored 6 goals in 7 appearances but his overall game, fusing his relentless energy, work rate and dynamism in the middle of the park with confidence, tenacity and clinical finishing in the final third. He has undoubtedly been Arsenal’s best player so far this term.

Jack Wilshere, meanwhile, seems to have had a stunted growth so far this term, both for club and country – the England youngster is still trying to find his fitness and form after returning from injury and a subsequent surgical procedure this summer.

The 21-year-old has been performing well below his usually impeccably high standards and perhaps the criticism he received in the aftermath of his lackluster international displays has knocked his confidence but, nonetheless, he is a player of immense quality and leadership in Wenger’s team and his understanding with Ramsey has improved remarkably since the opening game.

Then there Mesut Ozil – how can you leave out a record-breaking £42.5 million signing who agreed to sign because he had the boss’ faith and trust? You can’t really, not if you want to ensure his career at Arsenal gets the right start and his integration into the team continues to develop.

Santi Cazorla is still out with an ankle injury which might be where Arteta could slot into the side for the time being – Cazorla has operated on the left flank in the absence of Lukas Podolski who is out for three months with a hamstring tear and the pint-sized Spaniard may be re-deployed in that position balancing out Walcott on the opposite flank.

That still leaves too many bodies in midfield and newly re-signed Mathieu Flamini has been performing well in Arteta’s position, offering protection and calm to the backline.

I would imagine, once Arteta returns to full fitness, he’ll likely start from the bench and be alternated with Flamini wherever possible and necessary until he achieves match-fitness but, in the long run, if all of Wenger’s options in the centre of midfield remain focused, fit and available, you’d have to think Jack Wilshere is the weakest link in his present form.

We will likely see Flamini rotated in and out with Arteta, given that they assume the same position and possess similar qualities but if the Frenchman performs consistently and Ozil moves back to a number 10 position behind Olivier Giroud when Cazorla returns, Wenger might opt to rest Wilshere, given that so far Ramsey has combined with Ozil most effectively and most often.

Overall, it’s great for the manager to have so many options and, one might even be relieved with the abundance of quality midfielders given the injury constraints in Wenger’s squad at the moment but, across the course of the season, it’s going to be a strong competition for places and starts in North London.

images: © Ronnie Macdonald, © Ronnie Macdonald

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