Middlesbrough's preparation for the daunting trip to Arsenal has been boosted by the news club captain Grant Leadbitter is returning to training after five months on the sidelines. The former England Under-21 international has not played since the win over Brighton and Hove Albion on the final day of the last Championship season which secured promotion to the Premier League.
The 30-year-old underwent a hernia operation in the wake of the north-east club securing their return to the top flight in an effort to be fit for the start of the campaign. However, the club confirmed in July that the procedure would require extra recovery time which would force him to miss the beginning of the season. The ex-Ipswich Town and Sunderland midfielder has missed nine games in all, including the recent 1-0 defeat to Watford.
Aitor Karanka's side have made an inauspicious start to life back in the Premier League after a seven-year absence, winning just once this term. Therefore, the visit to Arsenal, who put six past Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets Razgrad in the Champions League on Wednesday [19 October] represents an intimidating one but the imminent return of Leadbitter has eased the tension in the build-up to the game.
"I hope he will be training this week or next week," said Karanka ahead of the trip to Arsenal, according to Gazette Live. "He's desperate to be back in the team. It will be a big boost, really important for the team. Even now when he's not in the training sessions or playing in the games, he travelled to West Ham to be in our changing room, he travelled to Everton and Sunderland because he's a really important part of this club. He knows that, and the other lads know too. He has a smile on his face.
"When you're playing in London and when your captain who has been injured for two or three months is the first one to arrive, or when you're at Sunderland and he was really disappointed to miss that game, he was still with his teammates and showing his character. Even when he's been injured, he's been with the team – it's been really important."
Arsenal have won each of their last seven games in all competitions, scoring 23 goals in the process, and have an impressive recent record over their opponents on Saturday. The Gunners have not lost a home league game to Boro since 2001, when the visitors managed by Terry Venables claimed a 3-0 win at Highbury.