Mikel Arteta might just be the envy of many managers right now as he has a near fully fit Arsenal first-team squad to choose from for the London derby against Chelsea this evening (Saturday).
Having said that, the Spaniard still has to make a few checks having not seen as many as 14 of his senior players for much of the past fortnight because of the international break, revealing the situation would become a whole lot clearer following the training session at London Colney.
“Not a lot,” Arteta told reporters in the pre-match press conference on Friday morning when asked for the latest Arsenal team news. “We haven’t had a lot of players. We’re going to do our first training session today and we’ll know more after the session.”
If all 14 players have returned from international duty unscathed and there aren’t any fresh injury concerns, Arteta will be able to name an unchanged squad from the win over Manchester City almost a fortnight ago. This will include William Saliba and Leandro Trossard who did not go away with France and Belgium respectively.
Meanwhile, the hope is that Bukayo Saka will, once again, be available for selection too. The winger missed the 1-0 win over the champions with a hamstring problem and subsequently withdrew from the England squad for their double-header against Australia and Italy.
Without going as far as to confirm the Arsenal number seven will return for the trip to Stamford Bridge, Arteta did reveal the winger has been working hard to be in contention: “I’m sure he wants to play yes,” the Spanish tactician added. “He’s been working so hard to be fit for this game. So let’s see where he’s at today.”
Now, if Saka is fit enough to face Chelsea then Arteta has three options to consider. Does he hand the 22-year-old an immediate recall to the starting line-up, name him among the substitutes, or choose to not risk him and leave him out of the matchday squad altogether?
History suggests that if the England international has recovered from the hamstring injury then, one way or another, he will be involved for Arsenal against the Blues. But a return would come at the expense of one teammate as Premier League rules permit Arteta to name a 20-man matchday squad for the game.
As a forward, it’s safe to assume Saka replaces another forward which indicates Reiss Nelson is perhaps most at risk of dropping out unless Trossard, for example, is forced to miss out because of injury. But whoever is ultimately chosen to miss out won’t be alone in doing so.
With a maximum of nine substitutes allowed, at least four more Arsenal first-team stars will have to cheer on their teammates from home provided no fresh injury concerns emerge between now and 4.30pm this afternoon (Saturday).
Of course, Jurrien Timber is a long-term absentee, Karl Hein is unlikely to feature as unusual for two goalkeepers to be named on the bench for a Premier League game whilst Mohamed Elneny and Cedric Soares did not make the squad against Man City, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the same quartet miss out again.