Arsenal should be boosted by the return of Alexis Sánchez to the starting lineup when they attempt to put a hugely disappointing opening Premier League defeat behind them at Crystal Palace on Sunday. Despite heading into the new campaign on a wave of optimism, the Gunners suffered a 2-0 home defeat to West Ham, leaving them badly in need of finding their feet and getting an opening three points at Selhurst Park. It will come as a major fillip then that their top scorer, and star performer, last season is ready to make his first start of the campaign.
“Alexis Sánchez is fit, he’s been working hard and is ready for the weekend,” manager Arsene Wenger told Arsenal’s official website on Thursday.
Sánchez had returned late for preseason training after helping Chile to the Copa America title this summer. Having made 50 starts, more than any other Arsenal player, last season, there has been an understandable wariness about rushing the tireless Barcelona forward back and possibly overburdening him to the point of injury. But, having come off the bench for the final 23 minutes of the defeat to West Ham, he is now set to be unleashed from the start.
The match with Palace could also feature a season bow for right-back Héctor Bellerín. The 20-year-old Spaniard was a surprise breakthrough star of last season, making 25 starts in all competitions, but he missed the opening match with a thigh strain. Wenger confirmed that Bellerin was back in contention for Sunday, although there will be much intrigue into whether he is included in the first XI. Bellerin’s chance last season came through two lengthy injury absences for Mathieu Debuchy, but the France right-back was in the starting lineup against West Ham.
Arsenal will still have injuries elsewhere with Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky remaining on the sidelines. Welbeck has been missing with what was initially thought to have been an innocuous knee injury, which kept him out for the final weeks of last season. In his latest update, Wenger described Welbeck as “making good progress, but is still not available.”
Wilshere suffered another in a long line of ankle injuries ahead of the start of the season, with initial fears that he could miss up to two months of action. But Wenger has stressed that he is on course for a much speedier return.
“We said Jack would be out for four weeks, and he’s in the second week now so he’s on schedule,” he said.
Another Arsenal midfielder with an unfortunate injury history, Rosicky’s latest problem is more serious. After confirming that the 34-year-old has undergone surgery since injuring his knee in the Czech Republic’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Iceland on June 12, Wenger hinted he could face several months on the sidelines.
“Tomas has had surgery on his knee,” he said. “His agent said he will be out for one or two months, but it will be longer. How long exactly, we don’t know yet.”