The news Arsenal were dreading has come to pass: Sergio Aguero has returned to training in time to face the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium on Monday.
The Premier League’s most lethal forward will be ready for this crucial top of the table clash. With both sides serious contenders to lift this season’s title, this is effectively a six-pointer. Both teams will be pulling out all the stops to ensure they get the result they need. For Arsenal, that might mean rushing Alexis Sanchez back into the fray.
Speaking last week, Arsene Wenger hinted that Alexis could be a surprise contender for inclusion against City:
“He may be a bit short for City, certainly, but with Alexis you never know. He is running already. I sent him back to Chile, where he has been running with the physio of the national team, and we will see what kind of state he is in.”
It’s true that when it comes to the Chilean, you simply never know. After a long break in the summer to help him recuperate from a gruelling Copa America campaign, he was expected to miss the first few weeks of the Premier League season. Instead, he found himself introduced as a substitute in the opening game. His powers of recovery know few limits.
When Alexis was hurt against Norwich back in November, Arsenal initially feared he could miss six weeks. However, a return to his homeland has apparently worked wonders. If Alexis is in training, he will consider himself ready.
What’s certain is that he’ll be desperate to play. Arguably the reason he picked up the injury in the first place was as a consequence of his insistence on playing as many minutes as possible. Wenger was widely criticised for acceding to the player’s wish to face Norwich, despite a degree of physical fatigue.
However, this isn’t Norwich. This is Manchester City, and arguably the most important game of Arsenal’s domestic season thus far. If there’s a game in which it’s worth gambling, it’s surely this one.
With City bringing Aguero’s added threat, Alexis could be the ultimate equaliser. When the big games come around, he’s the Arsenal player most inclined to rise to the occasion. After all, he scored a superb volley in this fixture last season, and offered another devastating performance against Manchester United earlier this season.
What’s more, Arsenal have no comparable alternative. Just as Aguero’s skill-set is unique within the City’s squad, there is no-one like Alexis at Arsenal. In terms of style, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is probably the most similar player, but his productivity pales in comparison with the former Barcelona man. When the list of potential stand-ins includes The Ox, Joel Campbell and Kieran Gibbs, Alexis’ importance becomes all the more obvious.
It would be a risk to include Alexis. However, this is no time for conservatism. A win in this game would be a huge boost to Arsenal and strengthen their conviction that this is their year. However, to beat City they will need their best team out on the field—and Alexis might just be their best player. Wenger may have to roll the dice in the hope that his superstar striker can make the difference on Monday.