Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has indicated that defender Per Mertesacker will return to the first team upon his recovery from illness, ahead of the visit of Premier League champions Chelsea. The German World Cup winner has not featured in any of the Gunners' last three games, missing the draw against Liverpool and the wins over Newcastle United and Stoke City that straddled over the international break.
Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel Paulista combined to help the North London club keep a third consecutive clean sheet as they cruised to a 2-0 win over Stoke, three games that Mertesacker has all missed. The 30-year-old stopper was a near ever-present for the club last season, but the impressive performance from the new centre-back pairing has raised questions over his role.
Despite returning late from the World Cup, Mertesacker made 35 starts in the top flight for Arsenal last term. Such is his importance to Arsenal, Wenger has all but assured the 6ft 5ins centre-back that he will reclaim his berth at the heart of the defence upon recovery from illness.
"He should not worry," Wenger said after Arsenal's win over Mark Hughes' side, according to the club's official website. "He should just come back and play. It is good we have four centre backs and this produces a problem. Gabriel has shown that he can play with Mertesacker, he can play with Koscielny and he can be a great defender.
"They looked very strong as Stoke had quite an offensive force out there and I felt Koscielny was outstanding and Gabriel had a very good game. Coquelin as well was outstanding so we had a good triangle in the centre of the park. It was very strong."
Ahead of Arsenal's Champions League opener against Dinamo Zagreb, Wenger faces a selection dilemma in attack after Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud both scored in the win over Stoke. Walcott started the game and opened the scoring before being replaced by Giroud, who netted with five minutes remaining. The duo's success comes after months of criticism over Wenger's failure to sign a striker and the French boss feels the goals came as an ideal repost.
"If Walcott plays and scores everybody says that Walcott is good but before the game everybody says I should buy a striker but if I had a bought a striker then Walcott would not have played," he added. "So it is always a vicious circle and at some stage you just have to believe in your players.
"I know Stoke are a compact, organised team in their own half and Theo could find little pockets to get in their and maybe that you get two or three chances to counter attack at home so maybe you can use that. He scored a great goal because you needed technical quality to score and timing in the finish. It is good Giroud came on scored as well."