Alexis Sánchez is “unlikely” to be risked for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. The former Barcelona forward, scorer of 17 goals already in his debut season at Arsenal, has missed only two league games so far but is struggling with a hamstring complaint.
Arsene Wenger is reluctant to take any chances with Arsenal’s standout player this campaign. “We’ll test that tomorrow,” Wenger said at his pre-match press conference on Friday. “It’s unlikely that I will risk him on Sunday, but we’ll see.”
Arsenal go into the game on the back of their 3-2 FA Cup win over Brighton and Hove Albion a week ago and stull buoyed by ending their run of defeats at the Premier League’s big clubs with a 2-0 victory against Manchester City. A point behind fourth place Manchester United, however, they can ill afford a slip up against an Aston Villa team who have been by far the lowest scorers in England’s top division this season.
In their aim of insuring Villa’s miserable run in front of goal continues, Arsenal will be boosted by the inclusion in the squad for the first time of new signing Gabriel Paulista. The Brazilian center-back completed his transfer from Villarreal earlier this week and Wenger has no qualms about getting thrusting him straight into the first-team picture.
“He’s ready to go,” he said. “He will be in the squad certainly. He started his training yesterday and he looks fit.”
Arsenal will, though, continue to be without the man who scored in their comprehensive 3-0 win over the same opponents last September. Danny Welbeck has been out since the end of December with a thigh injury and Wenger is not prepared to rush him back into the side.
“He’s very short,” he explained. “If I would gamble, gamble, gamble he could be available for Sunday maybe, but it would be a big gamble after such a long time out. But he’s definitely available for next week.”
Next week’s fixture is already garnering plenty of attention, with Arsenal facing local rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane in a battle of two teams fighting for a Champions League place. They look set to make the short journey across London again without midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Wenger stating that the match is likely to “come a bit early” after his groin injury.
There is encouraging news regarding the fitness of Jack Wilshere. The midfielder has been missing since suffering the latest in a long line of ankle injuries against Manchester United in November, but his three-month prognosis remains on track.
“Jack has one more week of fitness regime,” he said. “He should join the squad in 10 days.”
Fellow midfielder Mikel Arteta faces a longer spell on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on his ankle two weeks ago to help cure a calf complaint that has kept the Gunners captain on the sidelines since the end of November and caused him frequent problems this season.