Arsenal continue to wait on the availability of Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac ahead of their home opener Saturday at the Emirates versus Burnley.
(Potential Starting XIs)
There is no timeline established for the return of the duo, who were the victims of an attempted carjacking last month. An arrest outside Ozil’s house last week is being investigated as potentially linked to last month’s incident, and the pair returned to practice for the first time Tuesday. Ozil then missed training Wednesday due to illness, and Gunners boss Unai Emery is taking an abundance of caution and patience regarding his players’ well-being.
“Really, my focus is to be positive and focus on making sure the players are 100 per cent in their minds here,” Emery said at his Thursday news conference. “I want to help them to be with us, back to normality training, thinking about football. Above all, I want them to be able to focus on each training session and each match.
“Am I pleased that they’re back? Of course,” he added, “For us, for me, first they’re a person and second they’re a player. We’re continuing our way with all the players who are ready with us and consistent every day in training. … When they are training regularly every day and consistent every day it’s good news for us because we can choose them to help us in matches – and the first match is Saturday.”
The Gunners opened their season with a narrow 1-0 victory at Newcastle United on Sunday, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal on 58 minutes separating the sides. The Gabon international had both of Arsenal’s shots on target as Ozil’s playmaking absence loomed large, but at the same time a defence that recorded only one clean sheet on the road in league play was largely untested as Bernd Leno needed just two saves.
Emery could ring in a few changes for this match, most notably giving summer signing Nicolas Pepe his first start. The 24-year-old Ivory Coast international, who scored 22 goals for Lille last season before signing on a club-record £72 million transfer, got a late runout as a substitute for Reiss Nelson – who set up Aubameyang’s goal.
Another switch could come in central defence if David Luiz has gotten acclimated following his £28 million move across London from Chelsea. Either Sokratis or Calum Chambers would make way for the Brasil international in the middle of Arsenal’s back four. As was the case in his first season in charge, Emery offered few clues publicly about such moves.
“Each player is different and really after Newcastle this week the players have been working well,” he said. “We can decide and choose different options for each position in the squad. We need to be competitive and we need different options to decide who is better for each match.
“If I have some doubt it’s good because it’s positive and after we are going to decide and it can depend on training on Friday. But the new players, the players who were with us last year and the youth players are all with us, and we can achieve our way each match with confidence in them.”
Burnley are already off to a much better start than last term, when Europa League commitments spread them too thin and resulted in a relegation scrap for most of the season. The Clarets pulled away for a 3-0 victory over Southampton last Saturday, with all three goals coming in the final 27 minutes and a pair coming from Ashley Barnes via newcomer Erik Pieters.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson fattened the scoreline with a well-taken third to start the final quarter-hour, and the 12-minute spree of goals satisfied Burnley boss Sean Dyche.
“We started asking more questions in the second half and lifted the tempo and without putting them on the back foot we suddenly made like awkward,” Dyche told the club’s official website. “You could sense the game start to change and of course it was a fantastic goal from Barnesy. “It’s a brilliant touch and hit and that settled us down. From that moment we kept at it and went after them on the front foot and asking questions.
“It’s brilliant football for the second goal and to top it all off it’s a brilliant piece of play and finish from Johann. It was clinical finishing all round and very pleasing to see.”
Barnes’ brace likely kept him in Dyche’s good graces to be in the starting lineup again over summer signing Jay Rodriguez, who made his Burnley debut in the waning minutes. Deadline day signee and midfielder Danny Drinkwater will not be part of Saturday’s 18-man side but is expected to get a runout with the club’s U-23 side this week to improve his match fitness.
Winger Robbie Brady remains sidelined with a hairline fracture of his rib, and Steven Defour continues to rehab from a calf injury suffered in January.
Arsenal have dominated this series and carry a 10-match winning streak in all competitions after a pair of 3-1 victories last season in which Aubameyang bagged braces in both contests. Burnley have more losses (7) than goals (4) in their matches at the Emirates during the Premier League era while shipping 21 goals.
ODDS and ENDS, per Ladbrokes:
To Win: Arsenal 1/3, Draw 4/1, Burnley 9/1
Both Teams to Score: Yes 10/11, No 4/5
Over/Under 2.5 Goals: Over 4/7, Under 5/4
First Goal Scorer — Arsenal: Aubameyang 13/5; Lacazette 10/3; Pepe 7/2; Mkhitaryan 9/2
First Goal Scorer — Burnley: Barnes 15/2; Wood 17/2; Rodriguez 10/1; Vydra 10/1
Anytime Goal Scorer — Arsenal: Aubameyang 3/4; Lacazette 21/20; Pepe 5/4; Mkhitaryan 13/8
Anytime Goal Scorer — Burnley: Barnes 5/2; Wood 14/5; Rodriguez 10/3; Vydra 7/2
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 2, Burnley 0.
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Arsenal 1, Burnley 0.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Alexander Lacazette.
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS
Everton (0-1-0) vs. Watford (0-0-1)
Manchester City (1-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (1-0-0)
Chelsea (0-0-1) vs. Leicester City (0-1-0)
Wolverhampton (0-1-0) vs. Manchester United (1-0-0)