Mikel Arteta insists Gabriel Jesus still needs time to build up his confidence following his knee surgery lay-off although the indications are the Brazil international will return to the pitch in the coming days.
The manager wouldn’t confirm whether the striker was part of the travelling party that touched down in Lisbon ahead of tomorrow’s Europa League clash with Sporting, however, Jesus was filmed taking part in first team training this morning.
Having been out of action since the World Cup in December, it seems logical that he won’t be able to start matches just yet but with the Gunners struggling with injuries to Leandro Trossard and Eddie Nketiah, there’s always going to be a temptation to use him off the bench if necessary.
“We will try not to rush him back,” said Arteta speaking from the Portuguese capital.
“We will try to make a fair assessment between what he needs and when is comfortable and as well giving the team a boost that it’s going to need in the next few weeks for sure.
“Everything is going well, he needs time as well to get himself that confidence and that physical state that is necessary to compete with a free mind and once he’s free to do that, we will throw him in.”
Arsenal have four games in quick succession in the next 11 days before a two-week Interlull hiatus. Given the schedule and the return of European action, squad rotation seems likely but, given some of Arteta’s decisions in the group stages, not a certainty.
Asked about his lack of rotation, the boss said: “Because we have one team and we have to play the games with the best possible players to win it.
“There have been moments where we have made eight changes. We try to accommodate. Players have moments throughout the season, players are available and not available throughout the season. For sure we will try to put the best team to win the game.
“We have certain players where we don’t know if they are going to last 70 or 90 minutes. We have to be really good at maintaining the quality, maintaining as well the balance of the team, the strength of the team to be as competitive as we can in the 95th and 96th minute.”
He added: “Of course everyone wants to play. It’s true as well when we’ve wanted to rotate players they’ve been injured and unavailable. Tomorrow that may be the case.
“Sometimes it’s been difficult and players have to deserve to play the minutes. Being fair in football is very difficult.
“You have to be really good at communicating your decisions to help players understand what you do, but all the time you have to think for the best of the team.
“We want everybody to feel important and we are going to try to make them feel like that.”
On the subject of wanting to field players only for them not to be available, there are pre-game question marks over the availability of Kieran Tierney.
The Scotland international sat out this morning’s session at London Colney due to illness when he was expected to provide cover at left-back for Oleksandr Zinchenko.
The 25-year-old has barely featured in the Premier League since the World Cup and only has 147 minutes to his name in 2023.
Arteta was asked how the player, who has been a regular in the team up to now, has reacted to his new circumstances.
“Very good because we talked and we discussed the situation and we had a very similar opinion about that,” said the boss.
“He knows his role – under me he’s played a lot, more than any other player probably compared to the previous players at the club in the last three years and he understands the situation and he needs to challenge the situation.”