Perez gets chance to shine once more for Gunners

Arsenal's Lucas Perez is set to return to action against Southampton tonight. He had scored twice in the tournament two rounds ago.
Arsenal's Lucas Perez is set to return to action against Southampton tonight. He had scored twice in the tournament two rounds ago.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Lucas Perez is likely to return to action today for Arsenal in the quarter-final of the League Cup - a competition that very much heralded his arrival in England.

With striker Olivier Giroud unlikely to be fielded by manager Arsene Wenger despite coming on as a second-half substitute and setting up Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal's second goal in their 3-1 win over Bournemouth on Sunday, the Spaniard, who has recovered from an ankle injury, is expected to lead the front line against Southampton.

The 28-year-old, who signed from Deportivo La Coruna in the close season for around £17 million (S$30.1 million), made scored twice in Arsenal's 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest in the fourth round.

But he suffered an ankle-ligament injury in the London side's 2-0 win over Championship side Reading in the next round at the Emirates Stadium on Oct 25.

According to the Telegraph, Perez, who was originally expected to be out for eight weeks, is ready to start for Wenger's side after his injury healed quickly.

The versatile attacker has only started three games for the Gunners, but is sure to get a a run-out today, especially since Wenger is set to rest attackers Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott ahead of Arsenal's London derby against West Ham on Saturday.

Arsenal will have a spring in their step ahead of their home game with Southampton, after ending a run of three successive draws by beating Bournemouth on Sunday.

But Southampton were also bolstered by a positive weekend result, having consigned former manager Ronald Koeman to a 1-0 defeat on his return to St Mary's with Everton.

"I felt it played a little bit on the confidence of the team when you do not win for three games," admitted Wenger, who has never lifted the League Cup. "Suddenly, there are questions. 'Why do we not win?' And the fluency goes a bit. These three points (against Bournemouth) will help us."

Southampton manager Claude Puel will adopt the same tactic of choosing from a combination of emerging talent and established stars for the encounter.

Southampton have been a thorn in the Gunners' side in recent years. Arsenal have failed to beat them in three of their last four encounters and the Saints emerged victorious when the pair last met in the League Cup in 2014, though Wenger's team did come out on top when they played in September.

What will give Southampton encouragement is their defensive record - they have shipped just 12 goals in the Premier League, bettered only by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur - and Arsenal's struggles to hit the target in recent games.

Puel's outfit are not especially prolific themselves - only Burnley, Middlesbrough, Hull and Swansea have scored fewer than their 13 this season - but with Sofiane Boufal likely to rejoin a strong attacking selection after illness, they will be a threat today.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Perez gets chance to shine once more for Gunners'. Print Edition | Subscribe