HomeArteta plays down Saka fears as Smith Rowe returns to Arsenal training

Arteta plays down Saka fears as Smith Rowe returns to Arsenal training

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Mikel Arteta played down fears over Bukayo Saka’s fitness ahead of Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League meeting with PSV on Tuesday, when Emile Smith Rowe could make his return from injury.

Arsenal have excelled on their return to Europe’s premier club competition this season, wrapping up top spot in Group B with a game to spare by hammering Lens 6-0 at the end of November.

That means they have nothing to play for when they wrap up their group-stage campaign against PSV, who are also guaranteed to progress due to their head-to-head advantage over Lens.

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There had been speculation that both Saka and Gabriel Martinelli might miss the trip to Eindhoven after they failed to participate in training on Monday.

While Martinelli will sit the game out as a precautionary measure after suffering from illness, Arteta has revealed Saka’s absence from training was planned in order to ease his workload.

Asked about Saka’s condition at Monday’s pre-match press conference, Arteta said: “He’s fine. With a few of the players we decided to give them another day’s recovery, with just 48 before the next match.

“Some of them have played a lot of minutes. We’ve already done what we had to do inside, so it wasn’t worth putting them out and exposing them outside today.”

In an ideal scenario, Arteta might have wished to rotate his team as Arsenal bid for a first Premier League title since 2003-04, but the Spaniard has little room for manoeuvre due to injuries, with Fabio Vieira, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Thomas Partey and Jurrien Timber out.

“We have five or six big injuries, so we are already a bit thin. I don’t know in a different context what I would have done,” Arteta said.

“I want everyone together with the mentality to win. I want to see in the players tomorrow that although the job technically is done, it is not completely done.

“Our duty as representatives of Arsenal is to win every game and tomorrow we need a big performance against a team that is going to make it very difficult.”

Emile Smith Rowe, meanwhile, returned to training on Monday after suffering a knee injury at the start of November, having also missed most of last season with a groin issue.

Smith Rowe was pictured boarding the Gunners’ flight to the Netherlands later on Monday, and Arteta has been impressed by the way the 23-year-old has gone about his recovery.

“What he has been through is part of the experience that 95 per cent of footballers have to go through,” Arteta said of the attacking midfielder. “It’s about difficulties, injuries, setbacks and different kinds of performances too.

“He’s back now, and he can use that in a very powerful way, he will be a much better player.

“I think he’s on the right path, the way he’s done his rehab… I haven’t seen it like he’s done it this time.

“I think you have seen how his team-mates reacted to him being back with the team, which is a really positive thing as well. The more we can give him chances to play, the better we will be.”

Jon Fisher
Jon Fisher
Jon has over 20 years' experience in sports journalism having worked at the Press Association, Goal and Stats Perform, covering three World Cups, an Olympics and numerous other major sporting events.

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