The 18-year-old German U19s star has been hailed as an exciting prospect in the Gunners’ youth academy since his arrival in 2011 at the age of 16. The attacking midfielder had been given run outs by the boss previously in League Cup, Premier League and even Champions League but he had yet to fully cement his status as a first-team player at the Emirates.
Opportunity knocked for the young man when Theo Walcott was withdrawn from the squad to face Stoke this weekend with a mysterious abdominal complaint and the English winger now faces a test against time to be fit for his country’s World Cup qualifiers next month.
Gnabry had a very good, more than decent, game on Sunday and he seemed completely unfazed by his sudden and surprising inclusion – he was calm, kept his nerve and contributed admirably to his team’s win against the physical prowess of Stoke City.
Only once over the course of 73 minutes was he shrugged off the ball – going forward he had one shot on target and one narrowly off-target, he created one clear-cut chance for a teammate in the final third, he was fouled twice earning his side two free kicks, one of which resulted in a goal, on the flank he had a 78 per cent pass success rate, when he drifted in-field he barely misplaced a pass at all, defensively he made three key interceptions, made three out of four successful tackles, one out of two successful clearances, and succeed with two out of his six attempted take-ons.
With the Capital One Cup tie against West Brom coming up on Wednesday I would expect him to at least feature along with the likes of Ryo Miyaichi, Carl Jenkinson, Nacho Monreal, Thomas Vernmaelen, Emmanuel Frimpong perhaps and Nicklas Bendtner.
However, when Arsenal return to Premier League and Champions League action over the course of the next week, will Gnabry keep his place covering Walcott and, if not, who could fill in instead of him?
Another youngster Miyaichi replaced him as a second half substitute this weekend, the 20-year-old Japan attacker will surely be in contention along with Gnabry but I would still expect the German to be ahead of him in the pecking order on merit.
Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey has filled in on the right flank for Walcott last term and with the return of Mikel Arteta from injury, a surplus of central midfielders could see the in-form Welsh ace move wide or perhaps even Mesut Ozil could be shifted there. I suppose Wednesday evening’s game gives the boss a chance to experiment somewhat with his selection at right midfield – for example, if Bendtner happened to play blinder, he might opt to reward the Dane with further opportunities in the team; he has featured wide for Arsenal before.
All in all, Arsene Wenger has a cumbersome list of injuries at the moment but the positive that can be taken from that is his abundance of up-coming youngsters as options, in-form first-teamers and even unlikely outsiders like Bendtner to choose from – who knows it could be the making or rebirth of one of them and change the landscape of their careers. Even a fully-fit Theo Walcott needs competition to keep his mind focused and, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out, one of these options could capitalize and show their willingness to compete with him.
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