Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta concedes it is still too early to determine if William Saliba will be able to feature again this season.
The France centre-back has been absent for all of Arsenal’s past four matches after sustaining a back injury in the first half of the Europa League last-16 second-leg draw with Sporting CP last month, which resulted in the Gunners’ elimination on penalties.
There had been hope Saliba’s recovery was advanced when seen on an exercise bike at training earlier this week, but it would appear such optimism was misjudged.
Saliba will definitely not face Southampton at Emirates Stadium on Friday, and now it would seem there is a chance he does not play again this season for the Premier League leaders.
And with their lead over Manchester City just four points having played a game more, the Gunners need all the help they can get.
“No big news, the picture hasn’t changed from last week. Regarding William, we still need to wait a bit more. He’s not progressing as quick as we hoped,” Arteta told reporters.
“It’s delicate and we want to be very certain when we push him that he is ready to absorb the load and the risk that we will take.
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“At the moment it’s not possible to do.”
Arteta was then asked if Saliba could potentially miss the remaining weeks of the season, with the coach unable to put supporters’ minds at ease.
“I don’t know. It’s a bit early to do [come to those conclusions],” he continued.
“Probably next week we will have more certainty. There is some evolution – he’s doing more activity, but he’s not ready yet to throw him on to the pitch at the level our sessions demand to compete in this league.”
Arteta also had a disappointing update regarding Oleksandr Zinchenko.
The Ukraine international was absent for last weekend’s 2-2 draw with West Ham due to a groin strain and, despite reports suggesting he was likely to be fit to face Saints, those claims now look wide of the mark.
“We will see with that one as well. It’s not certain,” Arteta added. “It’s a muscular injury and it needs some time to heal, and we are not there yet.”
Arsenal’s next game after the visit of Saints is a trip to Manchester City on Wednesday, a game that could well decide the fate of the title.
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