Olivier Giroud hopes to stake a claim for greater involvement at Arsenal by impressing on his first start of the season against Ludogorets Razgrad tonight.
The France international is convinced his “turn will come” after a slow start to his campaign. The striker returned to training late after helping France reach the final of Euro 2016 and, after his cameo against Paris Saint-Germain at Parc des Princes was curtailed by a red card, saw his progress further disrupted by a niggling toe injury aggravated on international duty.
Giroud came off the bench at Sunderland to score with his first two touches in Saturday’s 4-1 victory – his first goals of the season – and is expected to start against the Bulgarians at the Vasil Levski stadium as Arsenal seek to extend their involvement in the competition beyond Christmas for a 17th consecutive season.
Having watched Alexis Sanchez lead the line impressively to date, Giroud welcomed the possibility of a start, albeit in a side depleted by injuries.
“It’s good to be back in contention,” said Giroud, who is expected to benefit from Sanchez being rested
“In every big club you have a lot of good strikers with different qualities and the team has been doing very well since the start of the season. I’ve hoped to come back in and I’ve worked hard in training to do so but I’m happy as long as the team are winning . . .
“So I’m not questioning myself too much about my place. I just need to play more and keep training well and show I’m in good form. That’s what I always try and bring to the team. When I came on against Sunderland I tried to raise the side to get back into the game.
“It was 1-1 and we needed the win. Fortunately I finished the work of the team well. I feel good on the pitch. My injury is behind me and I want to look forward and qualify for the next stage of the Champions League. There’s also a big game on Sunday. I’m just concentrating on what I have to do on the pitch. My turn will come.”
Arsene Wenger’s side dismissed Ludogorets 6-0 in London two weeks ago and the manager might always have been tempted to rest key performers in Sofia before Sunday’s eagerly anticipated derby against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.
As it is, he has not risked taking players such as Theo Walcott, Nacho Monreal and Santi Cazorla to Bulgaria as they recover from minor injuries, and Hector Bellerin suffered a knock towards the end of training at London Colney and has also not travelled. Carl Jenkinson, who made his first appearance for Arsenal in 898 days against Reading in the EFL Cup last week, may deputise at right-back.
The visitors, unbeaten since the opening weekend of the season, will progress if they win and Basel fail to beat Paris Saint-Germain in Switzerland. Arsenal are in effect going head to head with PSG to claim Group A.
“Our prime target is to win the group but let’s just try and focus on the next match and continue this strong run, ” said Wenger.
Ludogorets manager, Georgi Dermendzhiev, predicted Arsenal would end the season "as champions of England" if recent form is maintained and said his side would adopt a more cautious approach this time. His players are braced for another awkward evening.