The 2018 FIFA World Cup is just eight months away and many international teams have already booked their place at the prestigious event to be held in Russia.
For fans of club football, the tournament offers them a chance to see their star players in action on the greatest stage of all. And of course, they can also cheer on their own nation – providing they have qualified, of course. But which current Arsenal players will be turning out for their countries next summer?
And which will be left at home watching from the comfort of their armchairs?
France are one of the favourites to lift the trophy in Moscow next year. In October, they qualified for their sixth straight World Cup, securing top place in Group A with a 2-1 win over Belarus. Of course, that game would have been of great interest to Arsenal fans with forward players Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette both regulars in the national lineup.
On this occasion, it was Giroud who grabbed the headlines, scoring the crucial second goal to take his overall tally for France to 28. Only six players have scored more goals for Les Bleus in the history of the game. Substitute Alexandre Lacazette did not make it onto the field of play but will have been delighted to see his side wrap up their qualifying campaign with relative ease, although they were far from at their best on the night.
Gunners’ goalkeeper David Ospina also secured a ticket to next year’s showpiece event after he and his Colombia teammates earned the point they needed to progress away to Peru. The visitors took the lead thanks to a second-half strike from James Rodriguez but were pegged back when Ospina was beaten by a 76th-minute Paolo Guerrero free-kick. In the end, Los Cafeteros hung on for the point to secure qualification, while Peru must now overcome New Zealand in the playoffs if they are to join their fellow South Americans in Russia. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Colombia reached the quarterfinals for the very first time and will now be featuring in their sixth World Cup finals event overall.
Arsenal regular Nacho Monreal played the full 90 minutes as already-qualified Spain concluded their Group G campaign with a 1-0 win in Israel. It was the full-back’s fourth appearance for the national team in the calendar year and based on current form, he could feature prominently in the finals next summer. Spain dominated a group that also contained 2006 winners Italy, who must now face a tricky playoff against Sweden. Julen Lopetegui’s men scored 36 goals, while conceding just three, with their only dropped points coming in a 1-1 draw away to the Italians. The 2010 winners are currently third-favourites to lift the crown behind Germany and Spain.
Granit Xhaka will have to wait a bit longer to see if he and his Swiss teammates will travel to Russia, after they failed to get the point they needed in their last game against Portugal. In what was always going to be a tough fixture, Switzerland fell 2-0 to Cristiano Ronaldo and co. in the final game of Group B. While the Euro 2016 champions qualified for the main event, Switzerland will now have to play a two-legged qualifying game against Northern Ireland to determine their World Cup fate.
Midfielder Mohamed Elneny featured once again as Egypt secured World Cup qualification for the first time since 1990 with a 2-1 win over Congo. It took a last-gasp penalty from Liverpool’s Mo Salah to confirm their status as group winners with a game to spare. Hector Cuper’s side knew exactly what they had to do following Uganda’s draw with Ghana the day before and when Salah scored his first just after the hour, they looked to be on course for qualification. However, with just two minutes of normal time remaining Arnold Bouka, Moutou bagged his first international goal to put Egypt’s celebrations on hold. With the game seemingly heading for a draw, a defensive error handed the Pharaohs a crucial lifeline, and Salah showed immense composure to step up and send Congo keeper Mouko the wrong way from the penalty spot. Egypt will now join fellow African nation Nigeria in the draw for next year’s football extravaganza. Elneny has already made 38 appearances for the national team and has five goals to his name.
England topped their group with ease thanks to a record of eight wins and two draws from 10 matches – an outcome that could offer World Cup opportunities for a couple of Arsenal players. Theo Walcott made a couple of appearances in the qualifying campaign but appears to have fallen out of favour at club and country level. A switch of formation at the Emirates has limited his opportunities and that has had a knock-on effect at International level with Three Lions’ boss Gareth Southgate overlooking the 28-year-old.
One Arsenal player that some are tipping to make the England squad next summer is Jack Wilshere. The 25-year-old’s performance in Arsenal’s recent Europa League tie against Crvena Zvezda prompted many Oddschecker punters to back him to make the squad for Russia. Of course, he may need to force his way back into the First XI at the Emirates first but the potential January departure of Mesut Ozil may help his cause. Wilshere has struggled with injuries throughout his career but turned out 27 times while on loan at AFC Bournemouth last season, marking his busiest campaign since 2011. He began this season playing for the U-23s but has since broken back into the first team and made his 2017 Premier League bow in the 5-2 demolition of Everton
Whether he will still be an Arsenal player by then remains to be seen, but Mesut Ozil should certainly play a part in Russia as Germany look to defend their world title. Die Mannschaft won all 10 of their qualifying games, scoring 43 goals and conceding just four. The Gelsenkirchen-born midfielder was left out of the squad for the final two qualifying matches after picking up a knee injury but should be one of the first names on the squad list should he remain fit.
Unfortunately, Sead Kolasinac will not be on a plane to Russia as Bosnia-Herzegovina failed to reach the playoffs despite a 2-1 win in Estonia on the final match day. With Greece cruising to a predictable win over Gibraltar, the victory proved to be too little too late for Kolasinac and his teammates.
Wales also failed to qualify, leaving Aaron Ramsey and his teammates frustrated. The midfielder started seven matches during the qualifying campaign including the 0-1 home defeat to Ireland that ultimately sealed their fate. Much was expected of the Welsh side following their strong performance at Euro 2016 but it was not to be for Chris Coleman’s men this time round.
Another Gunner who will not be making an appearance at FIFA’s premier tournament is Alexis Sanchez. His Chile side slumped to a 3-0 defeat in Brazil, and with other results not going their way, they were left outside of the crucial top five qualifying places in the South American standings.
Alexis joins the ranks of other star players who will not be taking to the world stage including Jan Oblak, Naby Keita, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Gareth Bale.
With so many Gunners’ players making the grade, next summer’s tournament should provide plenty of interest for fans of the North London club. Whether any of them can go on to lift the ultimate prize just as Mesut Ozil did in 2014 remains to be seen. Of course, the situation could change again in January should any World Cup candidates arrive or leave the club during the transfer window.