Graham Arnold
Graham Arnold wants one of his three right-backs to stand up and make themselves a must-pick. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS
  • soccer

Arnold lays down gauntlet for final Asian Cup tune-up

George Clarke January 6, 2024

With a selection headache looming ahead of the Asian Cup, Graham Arnold wants one of his three right-backs to stand up and make themselves a must-pick.

Australia will play their first and only pre-tournament friendly against Bahrain in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, with Arnold confirming he would throw uncapped Bolton right-back Gethin Jones straight into his starting side. 

The Socceroos boss said captain and first-choice goalkeeper Mat Ryan won’t play against Bahrain as he steps up his recovery from a cheekbone fracture.

Western Sydney No.1 Lawrence Thomas will likely start in Ryan’s absence before returning to a back-up role once the skipper is fit, which is expected to be for the tournament opener against India on January 13.

By contrast, Jones has a chance to work his way into Arnold’s strongest XI. 

Gethin Jones
 Uncapped defender Gethin Jones will make his debut for the Socceroos against Bahrain. Image by HANDOUT/FOOTBALL AUSTRALIA 

Jones’s selection came as a shock when the squad was unveiled last month, but it could also offer some insight into Arnold’s thinking ahead of the meeting with India. 

Over the past two years, the Socceroos have cycled through right-backs, and Arnold has been unable to settle on a first-choice option.

Nathaniel Atkinson and Lewis Miller, both of whom are in the squad that has travelled to the Middle East, have yet to make the jersey their own.

At 28, Jones offers Arnold an experienced head. 

“It is a position that I’m just waiting for one of these players to put their hand up and take the jersey and say ‘it’s mine’,” Arnold said.

“We’ve got a couple of those positions in the team that are open and still to be filled and at right-back.

“With Ryan Strain out – he did fantastically well – Lewis Miller did well in the last camp,  that’s why I’ve brought three right-backs in. 

“Gethin is new, but he’s got that experience.

“We’re building depth, but I want one of them to put their hand up and say ‘that spot is mine’.”

Arnold said Ryan was tracking well and had resumed full-contact training, while Riley McGree was in top shape after an injury-affected season with Middlesbrough.

“That six weeks that Riley had off with that (foot) injury has probably freshened him up,” Arnold said. 

“He’s in great shape and we’ve got competition for places, and it might be a matter of sharing those match minutes with other players (against Bahrain).”

Meanwhile, Arnold played down fears over the international future of Alex Robertson after reports emerged online that the Manchester City midfielder was considering changing his allegiance to Peru. 

The 20-year-old, currently on loan at Portsmouth, isn’t tied to the Socceroos after winning his only two caps in friendlies. 

“You should know not to listen to social media,” Arnold said. 

“He rang me two days ago and told me that he was playing for Australia.”