Arsenal return to Premier League action following a six-week break as they welcome London rivals West Ham United to the Emirates Stadium in a Boxing Day clash.
Mikel Arteta’s one wish when the Premier League season paused for the World Cup would have been no injuries to any of his Arsenal first-team stars.
However, the Spaniard’s wish has not been granted. Firstly, Gabriel Jesus returned from the tournament earlier than expected after sustaining medial ligament damage in Brazil’s final group game against Cameroon and he has since undergone knee surgery and could be out until March.
Meanwhile, last weekend’s friendly defeat at the hands of Juventus also came at a cost with Reiss Nelson limping off with a hamstring injury and it will come as no surprise that he and Arsenal’s £45m summer signing have already been ruled out of the Boxing Day clash against West Ham United.
With that said, it’s not all bad news for the Gunners as William Saliba has trained and the club’s other nine representatives at the 2022 World Cup – including Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Bukayo Saka, Ben White and Gabriel Martinelli – are in contention to start the London derby.
“Yeah they were all fine. Some came earlier than expected and they were buzzing to be back and part of it. I feel a really good energy around the place,” Arteta told reporters in his pre-match press conference. “They have got straight away into the rhythm and what we want.”
To further Arteta’s point, his squad appears to be in decent shape heading into the West Ham fixture. Of the 24 senior players at his disposal, only Jesus and Nelson are definitely ruled out whilst the game could come too soon for Emile Smith Rowe’s return from injury, although he is “close” to being available for selection.
Of course, as Arsenal are back in Premier League action, the Spanish tactician is once again permitted to name a 20-man matchday squad for the London derby but a difficult decision on which other first-team stars he must leave behind the bench or at home may have been made already.
For the 2-0 win over Wolves before the break, it was Albert Sambi Lokonga, Karl Hein and Takehiro Tomiyasu who missed out alongside Smith Rowe. But the situation has changed somewhat ahead of the Premier League restart with two of the aforementioned quartet available for selection.
Furthermore, based on previous decisions this season, it’s likely that Hein won’t make the matchday squad as Matt Turner is the backup goalkeeping option. Despite not playing in any of the friendlies over the past month, football.london have previously reported that Oleksandr Zinchenko should be available for selection and Kieran Tierney is expected to be fine after being rested against Luton Town last week.
Should this scenario play out and Smith Rowe loses his race to be fit then Arteta can recall Tomiyasu and Sambi Lokonga – who cost the club a combined total of £33.2m in the 2021 summer transfer window – to his Arsenal matchday squad against West Ham after the pair were left out against Wolves.
In the latter’s case, he emerged as a potential doubt to face the Hammers after football.london revealed it was a foot problem that kept him out of the game against Juventus. However, he returned to action against Luton and should be fit enough to take his place amongst the substitutes.