Gilberto Silva returns from a potentially career-threatening back injury tomorrow, with Arsene Wenger hailing him as Arsenal’s Claude Makelele.
Gilberto has been sidelined since mid-September with a serious back problem but is finally ready to return at Highbury against Norwich.
His return is particularly welcome, especially with Patrick Vieira ruled out with a hip injury and Edu still missing with a hamstring problem.
Indeed, Wenger believes the Brazilian has only been properly appreciated while he has been missing this season – and Arsenal’s defensive record has suffered as a result.
“The positive thing is that when he didn’t play, people realised how important he is, and he became a more highly-rated player,” he declared.
“It’s not only because he protects the centre-backs, it’s also because he’s good in the air and we have conceded many goals from crosses this season.
“It’s a shame as sometimes people who have a real team attitude, rather than a flashy one, only get that kind of recognition when they don’t play.
“People forget Gilberto is a world champion but he’s a quiet guy and he doesn’t want special attention.
“I wouldn’t like to diminish the merits of Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini as we’ve still had a reasonable season as they’ve done extremely well.
“But when we didn’t have Edu, Gilberto and Vieira together, we were a bit young.”
Thierry Henry, who returns tomorrow from a calf injury, recently claimed Gilberto was as important to Arsenal as Makelele is to Chelsea.
Wenger added: “Yes, they do a similar job. They make the game fluent and simple. He does the cleaning work – that’s important in a house as well!”
Although Gilberto is now ready to return after playing three times for the reserves, there was a point at which his career was in jeopardy.
“It was very serious. We had to consider that at one stage. If he’d needed surgery, he could have locked a part of the back that needs to be very flexible for a footballer,” revealed Wenger.
“It was a stress fracture from fatigue. He developed that in Brazil with his shin and was out for nine months as well but he has worked tremendously hard to return.”
Wenger is wary of the threat posed by Norwich and especially striker Dean Ashton, whom he tried to sign as a youngster from Crewe.
“We wanted to take him on as he’d played so well in the Youth Cup against us. Then we watched him again and again, but Crewe wanted to keep him. When he was finally available, we didn’t need him,” he said.
“Norwich play good football. They’re a bit like West Brom recently. They miss a few chances and then lose the game. But you think that one day they will score four and they did that at Charlton.
“When these teams have nothing to lose, they become very dangerous as they relax and I’m not convinced this is the best stage to play them.”