How badly will AFCON affect Arsenal in January?

Are we going to be seriously affected by the African cup of Nations (AFCON) in January? By Sylvester Kwentua

The African Cup of Nations may be two months away, but i can’t stop wondering how Arsenal, just like most teams in the EPL, would cope, when the AFCON starts? With the presence of a lot of players of African descent playing professionally in the league, when it is time for them to go and represent their nations, which team would be affected the most? Is it Arsenal? A lot of people think yes, but for me, I say no…

Now, let’s analyze our options in January.

Defence: Arsenal’s defence is on fire right now after building a strong bond, and the fear of the defensive bond being broken in January is nonexistent; Arsenal will not be losing any of their defenders to the AFCON in January. The likes of Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Gabriel, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Nuno Tavares will still be running the show defensively for Arsenal, come January. Is this not good news?

Midfield: Apart from Thomas Partey and Mo Elneny, I don’t think Arsenal would be losing any other first team midfield. However, when Thomas and Mo leave to join their nations in January, who would add the much-needed steel to Arsenal’s midfield, and keep it strong or even stronger? We have classy midfielders in Arsenal, and they all know what to do, when given a job. But then, don’t we think only Thomas’ absence, especially, would be felt in our midfield?

Sambi Lokonga is gradually warming himself to the Arsenal fans with his performances since he came to Arsenal, but in his first season as an Arsenal player, he is expected to show signs of tiredness and weakness, at some times in the season and if that time of the season falls in January after Thomas would have left for AFCON, who would fill in for the young midfield warrior? We have Xhaka who to me will be enough to do a good midfield job for a month plus in January, but right now he is battling injury, and unless he recovers fully before the end of November, I find it hard to fathom how he would get back to full-time training in December and play a strong role in January. He is human and he will need to be eased into the first team without being rushed. So, when he is not fit, who else do we call? Are we going to call on Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who covered very well last weekend? Arteta surely is thinking about this, just the way I am.

Forwards: Pierre Aubameyang and Nicholas Pepe would be representing their various countries in AFCON next year, and their absence would leave a huge hole to be filled in the goal scoring department. Aubameyang and Pepe have not really lit up the league this season with goals, but their featuring in any Arsenal game gives opponents something to worry about. With their speed and eye for the odd goal, Aubameyang and Pepe have what it takes to take teams by surprise. So now that they are both going to be away in January, who steps in? The perfect replacement for Aubameyang is Alex Lacazette. Why Lacazette has not seen a lot of on the pitch action until recently this season is something I find hard to explain. This player right here has all the energy and experience to lead Arsenal’s attack, and he does this well whenever he is chosen to play. In January, Lacazette would have a full month and even more, to prove what a wonderful striker he can be, and I am sure that he would deliver.

Nico Pepe may not really be missed, as Arsenal has wingers doing well at the moment, who can put in a good shift and maybe even Martinelli could be an able backup.

So Gooners, I know virtually every team in the EPL will be affected by the timing of the AFCON, but do we think Arsenal will really be hit very hard?


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Tags Elneny Partey Pepe Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang


  1. We’ll be left with the unfit Xhaka and two young DMs. I’m not worried about the central midfield area though, because Patino/ Azeez/ Cottrell/ Akinola/ Henry-Francis could cover us and maybe Wilshere might like an appearance-based contract

    If Lacazette and Balogun don’t leave, they can play as CF. Hutchinson can also be promoted as Saka’s backup

  2. I expect the article to show us how much games these players would miss.
    Probably from Christmas to 2nd week in January at most I suppose.
    Auba country might not make it past the group stage.
    I doubt Ghana is strong enough to reach QF

    Hopefully no injury, it will be interesting to see how we perform this season, MA has been good in the 2nd half of the season, in the last 2 years, bad first half of the season is why we have been finishing 8th but this season with good start, it will be interesting to see where we finish, based on my logic top 4 is a reality but early days am no raising my hope too high

  3. AMN and Lakonga showed they can play together already and will only get better with more game time this season.

    Xhaka is my 4th choice in general, never mind an unfit, returning from injury Xhaka, but I’m sure he will be be hurried into the starting lineup at the expense of our performances.

  4. Even without the AFCON, we don’t have depth in central midfield and in central forward position. So we need to consider external solutions to these problem if we are gonna push for a top 4 finish.

  5. This is the only time we are fortunate that we are not in Europe hopefully the remaining players stay fit and we have talented cover for that period, we should be better off than one or two other clubs.

  6. Of all the relevant players involved in AFCON, Partey alone is the one whose absence will be missed.

    Elneny is best gone anyway from our club. Today would be good, ideally.

    Pepe has done nothing much at all and Auba is hardly pulling up trees, either. IS HE!

    I do not foresee much disturbance at all in our continued progress, come JANUARY!

  7. I don’t think Laca can play the way he plays for a full 90 mins plus these days, particularly up top, I think he will share those duties with Eddie whilst Auba is away but there’s a lot of football to be played before that so who knows at this stage

    It could end up being Eddie’s last chance in an Arsenal shirt, personally I hope he gets a run and takes the opportunity, I believe in him being able to do so

  8. How about we play Tavares as a left defensive midfielder?I like his energy and forward runs.He defends well and is also well built to win duels.Arteta should actually reinstate K.T as Lb and pair Patey and Tavares in midfield starting with the liverpool game.
    I believe he will do better than Xhaka coz he is faster and he is better than Amn & Sambi coz of his energy.

  9. Interesting thought Cliff, equally interesting will be whether Arteta sticks to the players, format and tactics that have worked for a good few games now results wise or change it up because it’s Liverpool

    One of the tactical successes of the Man City semi a couple of years back was putting AMN in front of KT effectively to double up on Mahrez, maybe the same for Salah?, also for this one maybe put Martinelli up top on his own for an hour for his energy, pace and nuisance value, ask Auba to sit this one out at the start, pack the midfield and break from there as we probably won’t have as much of the ball as we have had in recent games, particularly at home

    Whatever his thinking inevitably it will be affected by what happens to his players on international duties

  10. At worst we miss players for Spuds Wolves and Burnley in the prem. Partey, Auba and Pepe will be a miss but as proved last week and before, its a chance for other players to step in and prove they can be just as effective.

  11. In Midfield there’s Sambi Niles, Xhaxa and even chambers to cover..
    Auba won’t be missed at all
    So Imo I think Pepe is likely the player Arsenal will miss most, cos Saka isn’t pulling up trees either at the right wing

    1. Calling out Saka is a little unfair, he has played well without producing. Pepe gets slagged wrongly by people but he produces probably more that anyone in the team. We have cover for midfield and as long as we dont get injuries, we can cope. Auba can be replaced by a different type of striker, lacca could do a different job to Auba so again can be replaced. We can cope.

  12. With the exception of Partey, I don’t think that there is too much to worry about, after all we are only talking about temporary stop gaps. In any case both Auba and. Pepe are too inconsistent to be irreplaceable and this could be the opportunity for Martinellii and Balogun to shine.

  13. I really cannot say if we will miss the players as Partey is injured most of the time, Elneny never plays competetive games and a side pass hero which I could do it for free (and be seated happily near Arteta most match days biting chewing gum), Pepe – don’t know why he is still here, Auba – maybe but as per the last match we could be better off without him.

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