Thursday 29 September 2016

Chuba Akpom set to start season as Arsenal's only fit striker as Olivier Giroud given time off

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Published 13/07/2016 | 07:37

Chuba Akpom
Chuba Akpom

Chuba Akpom is set to start the new Premier League season as Arsenal’s only fully-fit centre forward. The 21-year-old, who has never scored a senior goal for the club, has been told that he will not go out on loan because Arsenal will need him in August.

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Arsenal were confident of signing Jamie Vardy in early June but after he decided to stay at Leicester City, they have not been able to sign anyone else up front, and are increasingly resigned to the fact that they will not. Unless a new striker arrives in the next few weeks, or they can rush Olivier Giroud back to match fitness, either Akpom or Theo Walcott will start up front in their Premier League opener against Liverpool on August 14.

Last season Arsenal primarily relied on Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck to play at centre-forward. Giroud’s role in Euro 2016, playing for the France side that lost the final to Portugal on Sunday, means that he will be in a race against time to be ready to start the season.

Arsene Wenger has given Giroud and Laurent Koscielny three weeks of holiday before returning to pre-season, one week less than the traditional four-week break. That means that Giroud and Koscielny will return on Monday 1 August, the same day as Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil, whose Wales and Germany teams reached the semi-finals in France. Then they will have just two weeks of pre-season training to prepare for the opener against Liverpool. The trip to Leicester City on 20 August is a more likely comeback date.

Arsenal already know that they will not be able to call on Danny Welbeck for most of this season after the England striker underwent knee surgery in May. Welbeck impressed when he returned in February from a 10-month injury absence. But in the 2-2 draw against Manchester City on 8 May he damaged knee ligaments, requiring surgery. He is not expected back until February 2017 at the earliest.

With Giroud trying to catch up on match fitness to be ready for the Liverpool game, Wenger’s only plausible options as a number 9 are Walcott or Akpom, unless he asks Alexis Sanchez to play there, which he was reluctant to do last year. Walcott had a run at centre-forward in September and October last season, but he got injured and lost form in the second half of the season. He only scored three goals in 20 Premier League appearances from December onwards, and was not included in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2016.

Akpom has had four loan spells away from Arsenal, and scored seven goals for Hull City last season. He had been expected to go back on loan this season but has been told by Arsenal this month that he would be part of the first-team squad for the start of this season. The player is keen to fight for his place having seen close friend Alex Iwobi work his way into the first-team at the end of last season. He has three years left on the contract he signed in February 2015.

Yaya Sanogo has also returned to pre-season training at Arsenal, after two disappointing loan spells at Ajax and Charlton Athletic last season. Wenger is currently also deciding whether he will stay as part of the first team squad this season or go on loan again, but is thought to have fallen behind Akpom in the pecking order.

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