Mikel Arteta still won’t put a date on when he expects to be able to select Gabriel Jesus but says the striker is in a good place as he steps up his rehabilitation from knee surgery.
The striker hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since limping out of the World Cup in December but is back training with the ball at London Colney. While some reports have suggested the 26-year-old could be available before the Interlull at the end of the month, the manager continues to keep his cards close to his chest.
Facing the media ahead of Saturday’s clash with Bournemouth, Arteta said: “He’s not far now, I don’t want to give a timeline. He’s not very close but he’s not far at all.
“He’s feeling better every day and the doctors are feeling confident and the dangers involved. We’re in a good place with him, I think.
“It’s been pretty straightforward [his recovery]. At the beginning, we were really concerned with the possible extent of the injury because we were talking about a few options there.
“Thankfully, it wasn’t that bad but it was still a long-term injury, required surgery and it’s not pleasing, especially the first few weeks.
“Knowing Gabby, he’s been through that before, his mentality has been incredible and the [medical] team has done a really good job to put him in the position he is today.”
Arteta went on to confirm that the player is not yet participating in full contact training sessions with his teammates but that could change in the next 10 days or so.
“I’m saying he’s not far away but obviously he needs to do much more with the team. Let’s see how the next week to 10 days develops and then we’ll have a much better picture.
On whether the striker might be eased into competitive action with the club’s under-21s, he continued: “We need to see, depending on how busy the schedule is and where we have space between games to fit that in, whether we feel he needs it and how much we think he’ll get from it. There are some questions, good questions to ask in the next 7-10 days, I think.”
In the absence of the talismanic striker, Arteta’s squad have done incredibly well to maintain the five-point advantage that was in place before Jesus suffered his injury.
In attack, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinell and Bukayo Saka have each scored six goals since Boxing Day while new boy Leandro Trossard has added further attacking guile and energy both as a winger and a false nine.
Reflecting on the way his team reacted to losing one of its biggest stars, he said: “It was a huge blow for the team because we knew the importance of Gabby, what he was bringing to the team, the way he transformed the spirit, the belief and the level of performances we could reach.
“To be fair, the team made a step forward and players individually took more responsibility and were really keen to maintain that level and we have done it so far.
“It’s really pleasing to see players not looking to find excuses or looking to somebody else to do it but taking initiative and developing their leadership qualities. I think it’s really important.”
He added: “The team had to adapt the way of playing because of the qualities Gabby had. That as well was something pleasing to see. In general, probably [we’ve coped] better than expected and we have to continue doing that and when he’s back hopefully he can take us to a different level.”
When it was put to Arteta that Jesus may struggle to get back in the team, he replied: “Probably that wouldn’t be fair on him because he was starting every single game and what he produced for the team was phenomenal.
“It’s true now that we need to see when he gets back, at what level he gets back, how we’re going to fit him in and how we’re going to load him with minutes and games.
“Then, like everybody else, he’ll have to earn his place but we know what Gabby can bring to the team, that’s for sure.”