Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has some pressing fitness concerns as the North London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur looms.
Going into the first international break of the season, the Spaniard had doubts over the availability of Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko for the big game as they, along with Cedric Soares and Reiss Nelson, were the four first-team players – going by the Gunners’ official website – to miss the 3-0 win over Brentford.
Those issues have since eased with the quartet expected to be in contention to face Spurs on Saturday and in a huge boost for Arsenal, Odegaard has already proved his fitness by coming through 71 minutes unscathed in the first of Norway’s UEFA Nations League double-header.
On the other hand, that’s potentially where the good news ends for the Gunners as it was announced across the weekend that Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu were all returning from international duty with Ghana, Scotland and Japan respectively earlier than expected.
This development is either a good thing or a major worry. With Arsenal set to be in action 13 times across the Premier League, Europa League and Carabao Cup before the season pauses for the World Cup, having a healthy squad is essential as rotation is going to be a big factor if Arteta wants to ensure his side don’t suffer a dip in results.
In Partey’s case, he pulled out of the Ghana team to face Brazil because of a knee problem and his national team manager Otto Addo has since delivered an update: “Hopefully Thomas will be healthy very, very soon” he said. “We didn’t want to take that risk in a friendly game to play him against Brazil, but surely playing a player like him against a squad like Brazil would have been helpful.”
Meanwhile, fans can be forgiven for fearing the worst when Tierney was substituted in the first half of Scotland’s 2-1 win over the Republic of Ireland, although it should be noted that he was recalled by the Gunners as a precautionary measure over a head injury.
The pair returning to London Colney will allow the club to closely monitor their progress and there are likely to be fitness tests for them – as well as Zinchenko, Cedric and the fit again Nelson – at some stage this week to determine whether or not they can be included in Arteta’s plans for the visit of Spurs.
However, Tomiyasu’s return is somewhat shrouded by mystery. The reason given for his withdrawal from the Japan squad was “due to club circumstances”, what that actually means is anyone’s guess as there was no suggestion that the defender suffered an injury after playing 90 minutes last Friday against Matt Turner’s USA.
It could be that Arsenal’s medical staff are still managing the 23-year-old’s fitness carefully following his injury problems since the turn of the year. Tomiyasu has featured in all but one game so far this season and Arteta will hope to have the chance to continue that record at the weekend.