The last Premier League game before Christmas provided a huge boost for Arsenal. A 2-1 victory over Manchester City on Monday gave them a four-point edge over the team that many expect to be Arsenal’s closest rivals for the Premier League title, while also taking them within two points of Leicester City at the top of the table. But it hasn’t all be positive for Arsenal over recent days, with Alexis Sánchez suffering an injury setback that will rule him out of the hectic Christmas and New Year period, starting with a trip to Southampton on Saturday.
The Chilean forward, who has been out since straining a hamstring strain against Norwich City late last month, was set to return to the squad against Manchester City. But, given that his original injury came just days after Wenger reported him having a “hamstring scare,” the Arsenal manager has made it clear he will not be taking any chances with his recovery.
“I think he will be back around Jan. 10,” Wenger said after Monday’s win. “Christmas period -- don’t count him. He had a very slight setback, but it was planned for him to be on the bench tonight, he is so keen. He has got a little bit of a pain and we didn’t take a gamble.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Wenger stated that Sánchez would be back in “early January.” That would likely see him ruled out for Arsenal’s next three matches, against Southampton, Bournemouth and Newcastle United. He could, though, feature in Arsenal’s FA Cup third-round encounter at home to Sunderland on Jan.9, or, failing that, the big Premier League showdown against Liverpool at Anfield four days later.
Being without a key player at a time when fixtures come thick and fast and squad rotation is usually a requirement is hardly ideal. However, thus far, Arsenal have coped admirably without the man who top-scored for them last season with 25 goals. Indeed, they have won all four matches in Sánchez’s absence, including a crucial Champions League decider against Olympiakos. And Wenger believes that he currently has the players at his disposal to enable him to continue to prosper in Sánchez’s absence.
“We can [cope], but it depends always in our job sometimes you have the injuries in the same area of the team,” he said on in his press conference ahead of the meeting with Southampton. “Sometimes it’s not so much the number but where you have the injuries. And we have now not Sánchez but we were lucky that [Theo] Walcott just came back when Sánchez got injured. So that is important that you do not lose the two together at the same time.
Arsenal did suffer the misfortune of losing several central midfielders at the same time. Francis Coquelin is out until February and Santi Cazorla at least until March. But Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey have come in and formed a very different, but similarly impressive partnership. And Wenger has stated that another midfielder, captain Mikel Arteta, is close to a return.