Chelsea boss Graham Potter will be without at least five of his first-team stars when Arsenal visit Stamford Bridge in search of all three points on Sunday afternoon. The two London rivals will go head-to-head for the cross-city bragging rights when the Premier League returns on the weekend, with the Blues looking to maintain their positive start under Potter’s guidance by claiming an important victory over the early table-toppers.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages as Group E winners by coming from behind to beat Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday night, with Raheem Sterling and Denis Zakaria hitting back for the west Londoners after they were given a scare by Bruno Petkovic’s early opener for the visitors. Potter will be hoping for as many players as possible to be available for selection against Arsenal but he will definitely be without a number of important assets, including the likes of Ben Chilwell and N’Golo Kante.
Chilwell pulled up with a thigh injury during Chelsea’s win on Tuesday and looked far from happy as he was helped down the tunnel, with the World Cup in Qatar only a matter of days away from kicking off. He will be a shoe-in for England if he manages to recover in time for the start of the tournament, although Sunday’s match against Arsenal will almost certainly arrive too soon for him to make a return to action.
Potter delivered a glum verdict when quizzed on Chilwell’s latest setback after the final whistle against Dinamo Zagreb by suggesting that he could be forced to miss the World Cup as a result of the worrying nature of his injury.
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“I think you’d have to say so, yes,” said Potter when asked if Qatar is now a concern for Chilwell. “I don’t want to add any more than that but when a player pulls up like he did after he felt it, it’s never positive. I spoke to him briefly, he just felt something as he was setting off. He is disappointed and upset.”
Kante, meanwhile, is a long-term absentee after undergoing surgery to correct a hamstring issue last month and is not expected to feature for Chelsea until at least February. Wesley Fofana and Reece James will also remain unavailable for the foreseeable future with injuries of their own, with the latter also facing a race against time to be fit for the World Cup after hobbling off against AC Milan last week.
Chelsea could also find themselves without Kepa Arrizabalaga yet again after the Spanish goalkeeper missed the win over Dinamo Zagreb in midweek due to a foot problem sustained at the end of October. The issue is only said to be minor, though, which suggests that he will not be sidelined for an extended period of time after establishing himself as Chelsea’s first-choice stopper with a string of fine performances over the course of this season.
However, it seems as though the Blues could welcome back Mateo Kovacic if he is passed fit ahead of the match against Arsenal, with the Croatian midfielder a doubt to make kick-off as a result of a small muscle injury. He was not risked for the visit of Dinamo Zagreb but could be set to return when the Gunners come to town, although it remains to be seen whether he will start ahead of Zakaria after the latter’s match-winning contribution on Tuesday.
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