Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta has not played since NovemberGetty

Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta has continued his return to full fitness by playing 45 minutes for the Under 21 side in their victory over Blackburn Rovers on 5 January. The news is a major boost for Arsene Wenger ahead of a busy schedule that sees the Gunners face three key games in the space of just nine days.

The Premier League leaders host Sunderland in the Capital One Cup on Saturday (9 January) before visiting both Liverpool (13 January) and Stoke City (17 January). Furthermore, Arsenal will host Chelsea in a London derby on 24 January to complete a daunting set of fixtures.

Arteta has not featured for the first team since suffering an injury during the defeat to West Bromwich Albion on 21 November. The 33-year-old veteran midfielder missed much of last term due to recurrent fitness problems and has only started only two games so far this season, the defeat at Dinamo Zagreb and the Capital One Cup victory over Tottenham Hotspur.

Despite Mathieu Flamini featuring ahead of him in Wenger's pecking order, his return would be a boost for the side as Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere all remain on the treatment table.

Having been out of action for more than one month, the game against Sunderland may come too early for the Arsenal captain. Nevertheless, his return to action looks closer after he played the first half as the U21 side beat Blackburn.

Wenger may also soon have the services of Mohamed Elneny after FC Basel confirmed the midfielder missed training with the Swiss club on 5 January, amid reports linking him with an imminent move to the Emirates Stadium.