Arsenal are in line for a huge boost ahead of Sunday’s derby against Chelsea as the Premier League leaders could welcome back both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.
The struggling Blues visit the Emirates Stadium a massive 19 points adrift of Arsene Wenger’s Gunners, whose only win against Chelsea since 2011 came in the Community Shield in August.
A victory over Arsenal earlier in the season has been a rare high point in a miserable season for Chelsea, with the reigning champions having already lost nine league games this term.
After a 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge in September, Wenger’s side won their next five league games to get their title tilt back on track.
Bar the odd blip, the Gunners have remained on course since then but back-to-back draws mean they only lead surprise package Leicester due to goal difference.
Arsenal have managed to set the pace despite having Sanchez out since late November, with Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, and Danny Welbeck also out with long-term injuries.
Ozil has been Wenger’s player of the season so far but he was sidelined for last weekend’s goalless draw at Stoke.
However both he and Sanchez are likely to be back in time for the visit of Guus Hiddink’s side, with other players also getting close to a return.
“The good news is that Ozil certainly will be available,” Wenger said.
“Sanchez, the next two days will be decisive but, this time, I think he will make it for selection. Coquelin is back in full training today, ahead of schedule.
“Welbeck will be in full training next week. So those are positives. Rosicky I think will play for the U21s tomorrow night.
“A few players are coming back. We’re going into a very important period now, so to have people available is important for us.
“We have done extremely well during all this period when we had big players out, but it’s just a good opportunity to have everybody back.”
While Sanchez is back in contention after recovering from a hamstring problem suffered at Norwich, Wenger has been wary about throwing him back in but feels he is now ready for a return.
“The doubt is about him having been out for a long time, and the risk of a setback,” Wenger said.
“To be clear on all the tests is one thing. To be clear after training is another. But the intensity of a big game you can never replicate in training, but you can make the risk minimal.
“I’m cautious with him because we cannot afford a setback, which would mean a very long period out. We don’t want to take this risk. The signs he’s shown in training this week are positive.”
At his press conference ahead of the Chelsea game, Wenger said he saw no prospect of ground-sharing with local rivals Tottenham.
Chelsea and Spurs are looking to spend time at Wembley, with Stamford Bridge to be redeveloped and Tottenham’s new ground next to White Hart Lane forcing them away for the 2017/18 season.
Milton Keynes is also an option for Tottenham but Wenger dismissed any suggestion it could be Arsenal who offer a temporary home to their north London neighbours.
“Not really,” he said when asked if Tottenham could go to the Emirates.
“We suffered a lot to build this stadium and had to be very tight financially to pay it back. I don’t know, but I don’t feel it is in our plans to do it.
“We don’t need it and we have not been approached for it as well. It’s a board decision, not mine.”
Wenger also warned Arsenal’s London rivals that they could face a disadvantage when they make temporary moves away from their home grounds.
The Arsenal boss believes their London rivals will not feel at home while they are forced to relocate due to building works.
Wenger managed Arsenal at the old Wembley as Arsenal opted to play their home Champions League fixtures at the national stadium rather than the much smaller Highbury.
The Gunners won just twice in their two-year stay at Wembley — failing to get out of the group stages in either the 1998/99 or 1999/00 competitions.
They then moved their fixtures back to Highbury and, although Wenger said at the time of Arsenal announcing their use of Wembley that the club were in a situation where they needed to “either improve or die”, he now admits it was the wrong move.
“It was a nightmare,” he said.
“In hindsight it was the wrong decision. At the time at Highbury we had to cut 5,000 seats. We decided to go to Wembley, but we didn’t feel at home.
“The pitch was bigger, the ground was different and for the English players it was something completely unusual .
“We were used at Highbury to a tight pitch and unfortunately we were playing against Dynamo Kiev, who were running everywhere on a very big pitch. It was a disadvantage for sure.”
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