Arsene Wenger says that fitness issues are what caused him to leave Hector Bellerin and Theo Walcott out of last night’s starting XI and the 2-1 defeat to Watford.
The England striker notched a hat-trick against Southampton on Saturday, but given it was his first game since December 21st, and with a Premier League clash against Chelsea on Saturday, the Arsenal manager wasn’t willing to risk him from the start.
On Walcott, he said, “If you look well at his history, he has not played for five and a half weeks. He was stiff still yesterday.
“I kept him out of training yesterday. We have three games this week. We know well, do not think we are completely stupid in the way we make decisions.
“I think it was a good, normal decision.”
Meanwhile, Bellerin is still feeling the effects of an ankle injury, and Wenger defended his decision to play centre-half Gabriel there.
“We knew that we had to be strong in the air with their direct challenges,” he said. “Hector Bellerin has just come back from injury and is not completely, in my opinion, recovered.
“We knew that their main danger was from set-pieces and every time Gabriel has played recently, he has done extremely well in this position. I don’t think he was at fault for any of the goals.
“You have to look somewhere else.”
He didn’t make specific mention of Danny Welbeck, but it’s clear from what he said pre-game that he is going to be cautious with a player who has only just started his first game after 9 months out.
However, he did play Aaron Ramsey from the start despite the fact the Welsh international pulled out of training last Friday complaining of a hamstring injury. He looked a long way from 100% and looks set to miss several weeks with a calf strain that is unquestionably a consequence of that.
Francis Coquelin also was carrying a hamstring strain, so it seems sensible selections only apply to certain players, or where there’s a bit more depth.