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Thursday 19 October 2017

Wenger believes starlet Gnabry can take on World

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger talks with player Serge Gnabry during a training session
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger talks with player Serge Gnabry during a training session

Jeremy Wilson

As one World Cup door was slammed shut, the revolving nature of football ensured that another opened.

Theo Walcott will miss the tournament in Brazil this year but, according to Arsene Wenger, his most natural successor in the Arsenal team is still likely to be there.

Serge Gnabry is only 18, has played just six Premier League matches but is being backed for what would be a remarkable late surge into Germany's formidable national team.

"There is more than a small chance, there's a big chance," Wenger said.

When you consider the competition for places -- Thomas Muller, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos and Julian Draxler -- it is probably overly optimistic, but Wenger's faith does reflect the esteem in which Gnabry is held at Arsenal.

That was first evident at the beginning of last season when Arsenal's reluctance to reach an agreement with Walcott on a new contract was fuelled, in no small measure, by the club's knowledge of Gnabry's vast potential.

FINISHER

"We are looking at a guy who has good individual talent, he can pass people, is a good finisher, and has a very good football brain with good vision," Wenger said.

"He has great pace, he is two-footed, he can finish with his right and left. He has a lot in the locker."

What he cannot provide is Walcott's experience or goalscoring record but, as Wenger has shown with exceptional teenage talent previously -- most notably Nicolas Anelka and Cesc Fabregas -- opportunities will be decided by performance rather than age.

After starring in the 2-0 FA Cup win against Tottenham, Gnabry is expected to keep his place against Aston Villa tonight.

"I am not afraid with him," Wenger said. "He has convinced many people that he at least deserves another chance."

Another to offer anticipated impact is Olivier Giroud, who will return tonight after missing the past two matches with an ankle injury and then sickness. Arsenal's reliance on Giroud as their specialist central striker is obvious and Wenger is confident that the Frenchman has the resilience to cope with so much responsibility during the final half of the season.

Wenger said: "He was a bit tired recently, but now he is refreshed, he is back. He has qualities that the rest of the squad has not got and gives us a very good balance.

"He reminds me of Alan Smith in the way he holds the ball up but also his distribution and goalscoring. He's a tough, tough boy. He played the whole game at Newcastle with an open ankle injury. And when I took him off, he didn't want to come off."

Arsenal will return to the top of the Premier League should they prevail and Wenger still seems to be the only manager, player or fan in the country who does not regard Manchester City's recent form as ominous.

"They are the favourites from everybody's specialist eyes but we are here to deny that. This team is still growing." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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