Graham Arnold has hammered home the importance of Aaron Mooy to his World Cup battle plans, as the Socceroos coach prepares to welcome back the recalibrated midfield linchpin for the pivotal World Cup qualifiers against Vietnam and Oman.
Mooy’s absence was keenly felt as Australia toiled to costly draws in their last two Qatar 2022 clashes against Saudi Arabia and China, dropping out of the automatic qualifying spots as a result.
Maximum points are desperately needed from the visit of Vietnam to Melbourne’s AAMI Park on January 27 and in Oman four days later to keep pace with Group B leaders Saudi Arabia and a rejuvenated Japan.
Expected to name his squad next week, Arnold has been buoyed by Mooy’s late-season flourish in China, where the former Huddersfield and Brighton technician scored three goals in the final three games of the Super League season for Shanghai Port to take his tally for five in 13.
China’s rigid Covid quarantine and travel restrictions prevented Mooy, 31, from joining his national teammates last time around, much to Arnold’s frustration.
But the prospect of being able to exploit once again Mooy’s deft ability to maintain possession, pick a perceptive pass and remain cool under fire could be crucial in the looming window, especially with Tom Rogic and Adam Taggart (both previously injured) also likely to return to the fold.
“Aaron’s quality has be there for all to see for a number of years now and it’s been really pleasing to see him finish the season on a bit of a high in China,” Arnold told FTBL.
“You always expect to see Aaron dictating in matches with his vision and passing range, but when you see him begin to build on the goal scoring side of his game - which he’s done - then that’s an added bonus for him and hopefully us as well.
“He’s played in a more offensive role for his club and they’ve seen the benefits of that because he’s got an eye for goal.
“With Australia, he’s a player we can deploy in a variety of different roles and he has the ability to adapt to each one.
“It might very well be that we’ll be looking to give him that freedom to get further up the field.
“Everyone knows about his dead ball prowess from free kicks and corners but there’s much more about him than just that in terms of his ability to finish from either close in or from range.”
Forty-seven cap Mooy’s season ended on Sunday with Shanghai losing the Chinese FA Cup final 1-0 to
Shandong Luneng Taishan, who also topped the league table six points ahead of second placed Port.
His recent form - and calming presence - bodes well for Australia, so long as there are no further unforeseen hiccups which could affect his availability at a time of maximum need.
With their final two qualifiers at home to Japan and away to Saudi Arabia in March, there is no further margin for error for Australia in pursuit of a top-two finish which would avoid the pitfalls of being cast into sudden death play-off dramas.
“When you don’t have a player like Aaron you’re always going to miss him,” added Arnold.
“The level he’s played at, and the experience he’s accrued - that’s priceless.
“I know how much playing for the national team means to him and missing out last time would have been as difficult for him as it was hard for us.”