Evening all. Arsene Wenger has revealed the latest team news as we prepare to welcome Chelsea to Emirates stadium on Sunday and the big update is that Mesut Ozil is fit and ready to return after sitting out our trip to Stoke last weekend due to foot inflammation.
And although the boss was more cautious about the availability of Alexis Sanchez, by the sound of things, the Chilean is also likely to play some part at least against Guus Hiddink’s side. Here’s what Arsene said when he spoke at his pre-game press conference this morning:
Compared to last week we have no big problems from the squad that was available to face Stoke. The good news is that Ozil will certainly be available. For Alexis the next few days will be decisive but I think this time he will make it to be available for selection. The doubt is that he has been out for a long time and [there is] the risk of a setback if you try to go too early. To be clear on all the tests is one thing, after he is clear on training is another thing, and after that the intensity of a big game which you can never repeat in a training session. You can make sure after a certain amount of time that the risk is minimal. I am cautious with him because we cannot afford a setback with him. A setback would mean a very long period out so we don’t want to take this gamble. The signs he has shown in training this week are positive.
The boss also updated us on the recoveries from injury of Francis Coquelin, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky, saying:
Coquelin is back in full training today and he is ahead of schedule. He has still a few steps to go through. Welbeck will be in full training next week so that is positive news. It is possible Rosicky will play in the under-21 game [on Friday]. He was a bit sick at the beginning of the week but we planned for him to play tomorrow night. We have a few players coming back because we go into a very important period now for us.
Which leaves just Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere as our only two players whose returns are seemingly not yet in sight, which is clearly a huge boost to our chase for both the Premier League and Champions League titles.
My hope is that Cazorla, in particular, can recover in time to be fit for the first-leg against Barcelona on Febraury 23rd because I think having Coquelin and the Spaniard in tandem in the middle will significantly improve our chances of success against the reigning European champions.
But first things first, it’s Chelsea at home, the first of three home fixtures in our next four in the Premier League, as we try to stay top of the table. Although the Blues are hilariously in the middle of the worst title defence in living memory, hovering precariously four points and four places above the relegation zone as they are, Arsene still considers them ‘direct rivals’ and thinks they’ll escape the drop. He said:
If you are looking purely at the mathematics [they could get relegated] but the team has too much potential. Nobody can predict this. The confidence can go quickly and for them the bad luck is that the league is more difficult for everybody. Once you lack a bit of confidence it can happen to anyone. The lack of confidence is linked with one or two unexpected bad results. The confidence in our job goes quickly, maybe quicker than ever because the pressure from the environment and the media is bigger than ever so you suffer a bit quicker than before. They are not in this title race but [look at] the quality of their team. I think this season there have been exceptional circumstances for them and they will be back – I consider them direct rivals.
Which is right. They still have quality, the same squad by and large that made them champions last season and so it’s far from a foregone conclusion that we’ll saunter to three points on Sunday.
I expect us to win, but you can be sure Chelsea will be up for this one more that most others this season so we’ll need a top performance to take all three points and keep them firmly rooted in a scrap to survive.