Exclusive: Journalist James Benge Talks Mahrez, Draxler, Arsenal Youngsters & More


Our writer Chris Baker had an exclusive chat with Standard Sport reporter James Benge about Arsenal’s summer 2016 transfer activity thus far and what to expect from the Gunners by the time the window closes. Part one of the interview can be found here

Joel Campbell has been impressive for the Gunners whenever relied on, he doesn’t seem to be Arsene Wenger’s first choice though, could you see a loan move happening for the winger this summer?

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I doubt it, Arsenal are practically guaranteed their annual injury crises and I’d assume Wenger will want him around for when they happen. It’s a bit of a shame because, as you said, he’s really never let the team down. I suspect the manager feels his talent ceiling is lower than Oxlade-Chamberlin, Iwobi or Walcott.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been phenomenal in pre-season scoring two very well-taken goals, the boss said this season was huge for the England international, is it now or never for the Ox?

Knowing Wenger’s habit of trusting players to a fault I doubt he thinks it’s now or never for Oxlade-Chamberlain. However it wouldn’t surprise me if the player did consider his future if he hasn’t established himself in a year’s time. By all accounts he struggles with a lack of self-belief, if he has another season where he can’t carve a role out for himself he might consider a return to Southampton.

Manchester City has also been interested and I think Pep Guardiola could do to Oxlade-Chamberlain what he did to David Alaba, turn him into a player capable of excelling in multiple positions. But Arsenal will be loath to sell to a direct rival; they still bear the scars of a few years ago and the loss of Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor.

Jack Wilshere will miss the Scandinavia tour due to another injury setback, will this see the midfielder side-lined for months as previous injuries or will a prompt return be expected?

By all accounts Wilshere was left behind for precautionary reasons. Even if the Liverpool game is too soon I’d be surprised if he’s still out at the end of August.

Arsenal have some very talented youngsters in their ranks, Chris Willock, Gedion Zelalem and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who do you think is most ready for the step up to the senior squad on a permanent basis, much like Alex Iwobi last season?

Reine-Adelaide has been promoted to the first team so he will likely stay and feature in the cup competitions at first. He has noticeably bulked out over the past year and, on the basis of the friendlies, looks like he can keep up with the first team squad.

Willock and Zelalem are perhaps more likely to go to the Championship on loan. Perhaps one of them will end up at Birmingham, who did an excellent job with Jon Toral last season.

Chuba Akpom has scored four goals in pre-season for the Gunners, could he find himself in the first team next season or would a loan move be more realistic?

Certainly he’ll be kept around for the opening games; he might even start against Liverpool. It’s him or Walcott. I don’t think a certain section of Arsenal fans would take the prospect of Akpom leading the line all that well but he’s looked more impressive than the alternative in pre-season.

Akpom didn’t exactly set the world alight at Hull last year but Steve Bruce always spoke very highly of him, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a chance to start the opener.

Last summer was a shambles, signing one player played a toll in the Gunners’ dim title race, do you think the club will rectify the squad’s problems and sign the right players?

In Arsenal’s defence it is not as easy to buy players if you are among the top sides in Europe, in so far as the number of players who would improve the squad is limited. Particularly if you have a manager who doesn’t feel he can gamble with £30m in the same way Chelsea and the Manchester sides can.

So it’s quite possible they won’t get both a striker and defender, Wenger will not spend money for the sake of spending money. A lot of fans find that frustrating but I really don’t think their anger will change his mind.

A summer doesn’t go by with Arsenal being linked with Julian Draxler, and joining him is Riyad Mahrez thus far, are these two wingers on Arsenals radar or have the Gunners prioritised other areas?

I’m told that there’s no immediate likelihood of moves for either of those two. That could change, perhaps if Leicester or Wolfsburg made the players available on the cheap, but the priorities remain centre defence and striker. There’s plenty of depth in wide areas so, though both Mahrez and Draxler would be upgrades, I can’t see either of them arriving.