Bukayo Saka is in line to start while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be in contention when Arsenal take on Chelsea in the Premier League.
Arsenal will be aiming to get their first win of the 2021/22 campaign when they face off against local rivals Chelsea in the London derby at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday evening.
Leading into the game, Mikel Arteta is without a host of his first-team players due to injuries and coronavirus, with the likes of Gabriel Magalhaes, Thomas Partey, Alexandre Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah, Willian and Runar Alex Runarsson all missing out. There is some good news, though, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has tested negative for COVID-19 and was pictured back in training on the eve of the game.
Giving an update on the team news during his pre-match presser, Arteta said, “It’s still very uncertain. I cannot give you any answer today, because I don’t know if they are going to be able to train in a few hours if they can compete at the weekend, I don’t know. They had some tough days, Laca still hasn’t trained so he’s not been very good. But yeah, they were affected by the virus and Alex [Runarsson] similar as well. So yeah they were ill.”
Arsenal set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in the defeat to Brentford last weekend but looked vulnerable at the back. So, there is a good chance that Arteta decides to switch to a three-man defence in order to shield his goal better against the threat of Chelsea’s record signing, Romelu Lukaku.
Such a switch should see new signing Ben White pair up with Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney in the three-man backline while Bernd Leno continues in goal ahead of Aaron Ramsdale, who joined Arsenal only earlier this week. Nuno Tavares should get the nod as the left-sided wing-back for the home team.
While Cedric Soares and Hector Bellerin are options, Bukayo Saka should feature as the right wing-back. The England international has had a few minutes under his belt after returning late from international duty and when asked if he was ready to start a game, Arteta said: “Let’s see how he is in the next few days. He felt good after the match the other day but he’s in a better place.”
With Partey unavailable, Albert Sambi Lokonga becomes an automatic choice to partner Granit Xhaka in the middle of the park for Arsenal. The duo will have its task cut out quelling the threat posed by the likes of Mason Mount on Sunday evening.
Moving into the attacking third, while Aubameyang’s return to training bodes well for Arsenal, it is highly unlikely that he will be starting given that he has just recovered from Covid. Instead, it is likely to be young Folarin Balogun who gets the nod as the centre-forward yet again. Flanking him will be Nicolas Pepe and Emile Smith Rowe, who along with Saka, will be key to the Gunners’ chances of winning.
Arsenal Predicted XI: Leno, White, Holding, Tierney, Saka, Lokonga, Xhaka, Tavares, Pepe, Balogun, Smith Rowe