Mikel Arteta says he’s ‘very happy’ with the attitude of Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah but wouldn’t be drawn on their involvement in this Sunday’s clash with Leeds United.
The last time the Gunners visited the North West, we secured a 1-0 victory against Manchester United thanks, in part, to the contribution of midfield partnership Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey. With both players out this weekend due to a positive Covid-19 diagnosis and thigh injury respectively, there are calls for Willock, a star of recent Europa League games, to be given a chance in midfield.
So far this season, the England under-21 international hasn’t played any Premier League minutes.
In his pre-game press conference, the boss was asked if that might change. He said: “I mentioned with Joe that I’ve been really impressed with him, the way he’s handled the situation of not having much game time in the Premier League.
“I haven’t seen him train like he’s done in the last five or six weeks under difficult circumstances.
“I think the reflection of that is the way he’s playing in the Europa League when he’s had the minutes, or the Carabao Cup in this case. He has a chance like everybody else to play on Sunday.”
Nketiah will also be champing at the bit to play. The 21-year-old was on loan at Elland Road in the first half of the season but had his time at the club cut short after not receiving enough game time.
“He’s another one that is fighting and knocking on the door every day,” said Arteta.
“I really like his mentality. He’s cultured, he comes into the training ground and he says ‘I should’ve scored four’ so that’s the type of ambition and hunger that you want from players. So again, with both of them and some others, I am really happy.”
In addition to the aforementioned injury worries, the boss also needs to weigh up whether to start players who’ve endured a busy Interlull. Kieran Tierney played three full games – including one that went to extra time – for Scotland and England kept Bukayo Saka busy with appearances against Ireland, Belgium and Iceland.
On the latter, Arteta said: “I’ll have to see today when he comes back how he’s looking and how he’s feeling.
“Obviously, he’s a 19-year-old kid and he’s played a lot of football in the last few months and we have to protect him. I understand from Gareth’s point of view as well, he had the injury of Chilwell and he probably didn’t plan to give him that many minutes but the circumstances forced him to do it.
“From my side, it’s not ideal, but if I was in Gareth’s shoes, I would have done exactly the same. It is what it is, let’s see how he comes back and try to get him fit and recovered and see how he is for Sunday.”