Theo Walcott could make his long-awaited return from injury when Arsenal visit Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday. The England international has been out since rupturing his cruciate ligament in his left knee during Arsenal’s FA Cup tie against Tottenham at the start of January. Having played 45 minutes for Arsenal’s Under-21s last week, he could well be included in the squad that travels to the north east, reports The Telegraph, although a decision isn’t expected to be made until Friday.
Providing he can recapture his blistering pace, the return of Walcott would certainly add an extra dimension to Arsenal’s attacking play. Striker Yaya Sanogo could also come back into the squad on Saturday, although the team remains unable to call upon the services of Mesut Özil, who is set to miss another two months with a knee problem. Without them Arsenal struggled to find a cutting edge in the midweek Champions League duel with Anderlecht until two late goals secured a much-needed 2-1 victory in Brussels.
But manager Arsène Wenger’s primary concern continues to be at the other end of the pitch. Both at home to Hull City, in a disappointing 2-2 draw at the weekend, and in Belgium the Gunners’ defensive injury problems were exposed. With Mathieu Debuchy set to be out until the New Year after ankle surgery, Laurent Koscielny could again be missing at Sunderland. Although the center-back doesn’t need surgery for a deterioration in a long-standing Achilles problem picked up on international duty two weeks ago, Wenger will be loathed to risk worsening the issue.
With or without Koscielny, Arsenal will certainly be expected to deal with a Sunderland side coming off the back of an 8-0 humbling at the hands of Southampton. Yet, Nacho Monreal has been a highly unconvincing deputy in the two matches he has played in an unfamiliar center-back role. Available again after serving a suspension against Hull, Calum Chambers could move into the center of defense to replace Monreal, with 19-year-old Hector Bellerin coming in at right-back.
While the shortage of defenders continues to bring scrutiny to Wenger’s transfer business over the summer, Arsenal can at least take solace from No. 1 Wojciech Szczesny being available once again at the weekend. Emiliano Martinez had to be called upon for his European debut against Anderlecht with Szczesny suspended for his sending off against Galatasaray and David Opsina out injured. The Colombian signing from Lille looks set to be on the sidelines for some time.
“It is exactly the same one [as from the World Cup],” Wenger said this week, reports Arsenal’s official website. “He had his first injury at Nice -- it was a knee problem and he was a bit rushed back and did not use his leg, so his muscle became weaker. Then he got injured in the World Cup. After that, he came to us injured after the World Cup and it took him two months to play again.
“I had to bring him on against Galatasaray without a warm up and being prepared, so he had a recurrence of that injury. It means he is out for two to three months, now we have to be really careful because it is a recurrence of a thigh injury, which is very difficult. It is a long-term injury.”