LONDON, December 4- Arsene Wenger will attempt to get Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge back on track against Sunderland on Saturday after enduring another week of criticism about the club’s injury record.
Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla became the two latest names to be added to a lengthy injury list and will be missing when the rejuvenated Black Cats visit the Emirates Stadium.
The pair were injured in last weekend’s draw at Norwich, a result that prevented Wenger’s side moving level on points with the top two Manchester City and Leicester.
Sanchez’s injury drew particular attention with the Gunners manager having admitted the forward had felt his hamstring in the week preceding the trip to Carrow Road and Wenger has yet to discover how long the Chile international will be out for.
The length of Cazorla’s absence after suffering a knee injury at Norwich is similarly unknown and with French midfielder Francis Coquelin having only recently been ruled out for three months with a knee problem, Wenger admits it has been a testing month.
“Yes (I’m glad November is over) because in the last couple of weeks we lost Francis, Alexis and Santi – basically three players in two games,” he said.
“That is of course too much, but hopefully we now have Theo (Walcott) not too far away, and (Laurent) Koscielny coming back too.”
Wenger, though, hopes adversity will bring the best out of his players.
“I believe first of all it’s always a disappointment to lose the players at an important moment of the season,” he said.
“But on the other hand, it’s a great challenge to take for the team and a great opportunity to show that we are ready for a fight and we can deal with it.
“We prepared ourselves to go through periods like that and I’m convinced the players are ready.
“We have gone through a little bit of a bad spell in recent games, but we are two points off the top.
“The great opportunity for us is that, despite that bad spell, we are very close.
“That’s why it’s important that we keep our confidence high and our determination high, and start winning again.”
– Under threat –
Left-back Kieran Gibbs has returned from a calf problem and could be joined in the squad by Koscielny and Walcott.
However Jack Wilshere (broken leg), Danny Welbeck (knee), Mikel Arteta (calf) and Tomas Rosicky (knee) remain sidelined along with Cazorla and Sanchez.
The trip south represents the start of a daunting December for Sunderland, whose recent improvement is under threat as they also face meetings with Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.
They must start their difficult month without former England striker Jermain Defoe, who suffered a hamstring injury as they beat Stoke last Saturday.
Duncan Watmore, their exciting 21-year-old forward, replaced Defoe during the game and scored their second goal.
He is not guaranteed to start against the Gunners because Fabio Borini is back to full fitness and in the reckoning.
But manager Sam Allardyce has been impressed by Watmore.
“It’s nice to see a young man burst on the scene and show excellent ability. That’s a massive bonus which I did not expect when I came here,” he said.
The victory over Stoke came after a win at Crystal Palace and Allardyce said: “It was massively important to get those two wins going into this month, which is very difficult.
“They have given us the belief we can fight out way out of this problem that we have.
“It’s the start and there is a long way to go, but the confidence gained from those wins gives us an opportunity to upset the big boys.
“Now we have a very difficult game at Arsenal, but we’ll go with a plan.”
The plan is certain to involve a repeat of the 3-5-2 formation employed in their last three games, although the players involved will change.