Alexandre Lacazette’s absence from Arsenal training ahead of Saturday’s clash against Southampton could open the door for a Premier League bow for one of the club’s most promising youngsters.
After allowing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Pablo Mari and Folarin Balogun to all depart in some capacity during the January transfer window, Gunners manager Mikel Arteta has been working with a slightly smaller squad ever since.
Whilst that has allowed him to name a settled side more often than not, the Spaniard is always an injury, Covid-19 absence, or a suspension away from not having the luxury of every Arsenal first-team player available for selection. This has been the case for every league game since the window closed, which has resulted in several academy starlets earning call ups to a Premier League matchday squad.
Zach Awe and Zak Swanson have benefitted from Takehiro Tomiyasu’s long lay off. Arteta has called up Omari Hutchinson, Marcelo Flores, Miguel Azeez and Mazeed Ogungbo in recent weeks to cover for some absentees. And following the training video released this week, Lacazette’s absence from the session has brought about questions over his availability for Saturday which means the academy players will be on standby.
Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli are the obvious options to come into the side, but if the Frenchman has to drop out of the squad altogether, considering he is a striker, Arteta can call up one of Arsenal’s exciting attackers in Mika Biereth for the trip to St Mary’s as a direct replacement for the 30-year-old.
This is because if Lacazette joins Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu as the four first-team players unavailable for selection, the Gunners will be left short when it comes to meeting Premier League guidelines of naming a 20-man matchday squad against the Saints.
With 18 outfield senior players listed on the Arsenal official website, they could be down to 14 if the aforementioned quartet miss out at the weekend which means at least six academy players are in line for a call-up to make up the numbers on the substitutes bench and having trained with the first-team on Wednesday, Biereth appears to be in Arteta’s plans.
As reported by football audit back in November, the plan has been to gradually integrate Biereth into the first team this season with a view to going out on loan in the 2022/23 campaign. An arrival on a free transfer last summer after turning down a professional contract at London rivals Fulham, the 19-year-old has caught the eye this season with 11 goals and five assists in 24 appearances for the U23s.
Those impressive numbers, the departures of Aubameyang and Balogun leaving Arsenal short of natural centre-forwards coupled with Lacazette’s potential absence could work in Biereth’s favour this weekend.