The international break affords Premier League players a breather from the relentless domestic campaign. Even for those players representing their countries in friendlies, the change of scene can act as a palate cleanser.
At Arsenal, there are several players who will hope to seize this opportunity to come back refreshed and ready to step up their form. The run-in properly begins here, and that means this is the last chance for players to make a lasting impact in 2015/16.
Initially, it appeared as if Theo Walcott was set to do that. Seven goals for club and country before the end of October suggested this might be his year. He was playing in a revised role as a centre-forward and appeared to be giving the Gunners a new dimension in attack.
How that’s changed now. Walcott has started just three of Arsenal’s last 13 matches in all competitions, and he has not completed 90 minutes in red and white since December.
If Walcott was hoping for a change in his fortunes with England, it’s yet to happen. He was not selected for the 3-2 victory over Germany and may struggle to earn a place for the next friendly against the Netherlands on Tuesday.
With Danny Welbeck going from strength to strength with both club and country, Walcott badly needs an upturn in his performances if he’s to retain his spot in the England squad and break back into the Arsenal side.
Welbeck’s form is also a problem for Olivier Giroud. Although he has a creditable record of 20 goals in 46 appearances this season, the France international has started only four of Arsenal’s last nine games.
Like Walcott, Giroud’s concern will be two-fold. First of all, he does not want to become surplus to requirements at Arsenal. However, he will be particularly concerned about keeping his international place. This summer, the UEFA European Championship take place in his home nation. He will be desperate to represent the hosts on home soil.
Then there’s Per Mertesacker. Unlike Walcott and Giroud, the giant centre-half won’t have joined up with an international squad during this break, having retired from playing for Germany after their 2014 World Cup win.
Instead, he will be fully focused on reclaiming his place from Gabriel Paulista. Mertesacker has not started either of Arsenal’s last two games, having been unceremoniously dropped from the side after the FA Cup quarter-final defeat at home to Watford.
It’s not as if Gabriel has been in particularly good form, so Arsene Wenger must have real reservations about fielding Mertesacker. Those are presumably related to his lack of pace—opponents have begun to exploit the 31-year-old’s Achilles heel on a worryingly regular basis.
With neither Gabriel nor Mertesacker quite convincing at the moment, Wenger may be toying with the idea of recruiting a new centre-back in the summer. The onus is on the German to demonstrate that he’s still the man to partner Laurent Koscielny.
That’s the common factor uniting all three of these players. While their foremost concern will be to reclaim their place in the side and help Arsenal towards a strong finish, they’ll also be acutely aware that more poor performances could see them deemed disposable when the transfer window reopens.
Time is running out for this troubled trio to convince Wenger of their continued worth.