Mikel Arteta has the dream scenario heading into Arsenal’s grudge match with Wolves on Thursday night.
With Gabriel Martinelli set to return to the squad after serving his one-game suspension in the win over Brentford for the red card he picked up in somewhat controversial fashion in the reverse game against Bruno Lage’s side earlier in the month, it means every single Gunners first-team player is available for selection.
Whilst this is obviously fantastic news for the Arsenal manager, it also brings about a selection dilemma for Arteta.
Furthermore, with Takehiro Tomiyasu back in contention following a calf problem, the Spaniard has two big decisions to make when it comes to naming his lineup to face Wolves at the Emirates Stadium.
Of course, the first big decision centres around Martinelli. Prior to his sending off at Molineux, the Brazilian had arguably been the Gunners’ best player during a difficult January after becoming one of Arteta’s undroppables over the festive period.
The fact he was keeping Arsenal’s leading scorer in Emile Smith Rowe out of the side spoke volumes and also confirmed that Arteta will keep faith with those in form.
But with Martinelli suspended for the visit of Brentford on Saturday, Smith Rowe came into the team and staked his claim to remain in the starting XI after breaking the deadlock early in the second half as he rounded off a driving run with a crisp finish into the bottom corner.
As the 21-year-old was withdrawn with 15 minutes to go, it would appear that he is being kept fresh for Thursday night as Arteta continues to monitor the attacking midfielder’s fitness.
So the situation heading into the game against Wolves is that Smith Rowe’s confidence will be high after notching his 10th goal of the season across all competitions – the first academy graduate since Cesc Fabregas in the 2009/2010 campaign to achieve this feat – and to be named on the bench for the very next game would be a bold call from the Arsenal boss.
At the same time, it would be understandable if he makes way for Martinelli given the form the 20-year-old has been in over the past two months.
The best part of this situation is that there is strong competition for places all over the pitch and Arteta may have hinted that it’s up to Smith Rowe and Martinelli to impress him in training this week.
“Yes, but the performances on the pitch as well for the way they train,” he told reporters after the 2-1 win over Brentford. “We play once a week, it’s tough to see players training the right way and not being able to give them minutes on the weekend.
If choosing between Martinelli and Smith Rowe for one spot in the Arsenal XI is difficult, there’s an argument that in normal circumstances it’s pretty straightforward when it comes to the right-back situation.
Tomiyasu has been a consistent performer since arriving from Serie A side Bologna last summer and nailed down a position on the right-hand side of the Gunners’ back four until a calf injury sustained in the 4-1 win over Leeds United during the festive period halted his progress.
The Japan international has also made just two appearances across all competitions in 2022 but returned to the squad at the weekend, looking on from the substitutes bench as Cedric Soares produced yet another assured display.
Based on what’s happened this season, naturally one would expect Tomiyasu to earn an immediate recall at right-back now he’s fit again, but Cedric’s last two performances provide a strong case for him to start a third successive Premier League game.
One look at Arteta’s team selections when he’s found a winning formula this season may provide a clue as to what’s in store for the aforementioned quartet on Thursday night.
Across Premier League wins over against Southampton, West Ham and Leeds United, the Spaniard didn’t make a single change to his lineup as he opted to use the Carabao Cup quarter-final against Sunderland to hand Cedric and Smith Rowe a runout.
With the shoe pretty much on the other foot now, this approach may hint at Arteta keeping faith in the same side that started the win over Brentford.
Whilst the Spaniard is facing a double selection dilemma in terms of changing things up for the visit of Wolves – a game with an extra edge to it following Ruben Neves’ displeasure at Arsenal fans and players’ post-match celebrations – it’s certainly a nice problem to have after the well-documented selection issues over the course of January.