By Matthew Farr
Arsene Wenger could have to deal with the absence of star man Alexis Sanchez when his side travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United after the international break.
Sanchez is facing a potential lengthy spell on the sidelines after the Chile FA confirmed he has suffered a low grade muscular injury, although the full extent of the calf problem is not yet known.
Olivier Giroud is expected to return to the starting line-up in Sanchez’s absence, having returned to full fitness.
The Gunners are unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions and will be determined not to throw away their impressive run away to one of their main rivals.
Wenger is therefore expected to name his strongest XI, almost identical to the one that faced-off against Tottenham in the north London derby on Sunday. If fit, Santi Cazorla could come in for Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal’s preparations for the United fixture have already been boosted by the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is suspended.
However, this could pave the way for one of Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford to lead the line in his place, and their pace could worry Arsenal’s defence.
Wenger is expected to stick with his best defensive unit, featuring Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin. They will be keen to shut the door on United’s attackers like they did in the impressive 3-0 victory over Chelsea earlier this season.
Ball-winning midfielder Francis Coquelin will also prove an invaluable man within the Gunners’ defensive ranks, but the debate lies with his midfield partner.
Aaron Ramsey’s return to action may also give Wenger further food for thought. The Wales international has made just one start since returning from a hamstring injury, and made a brief 25-minute substitute appearance against Tottenham.
Wales manager Chris Coleman will want to use Ramsey during the international break, but while Wenger will see it as an opportunity to regain match fitness, he will also want Coleman to be cautious.
Meanwhile, the Arsenal medical team will be doing all they possibly can during the break to ensure midfield maestro Cazorla is ready to return to action. If they can get him fit enough to start, it will hand Arsene Wenger a major boost, and the Spaniard is likely to partner Coquelin in midfield.
Despite a lack of productivity against Tottenham, Arsenal’s attacking midfield trio of Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott is expected to remain intact.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be pushing for starting berth, but his inconsistencies may count against him.
Even with Giroud spearheading the attack, Walcott will shoulder much of the goalscoring responsibility without Sanchez in the team. The England man has been in impressive form himself, scoring eight goals so far this campaign.
Victory for Arsenal at Old Trafford could see them extend their lead over United to nine points. If United win, on the other hand, they could come within just three points of the top-four.
In other Arsenal team news, here is how Gunners fans have reacted on Twitter to losing Sanchez to injury.