Arsene Wenger will be without Shkodran Mustafi when Arsenal travel to the south coast to take on Southampton on Sunday (10 December) after the defender failed to recover from a minor thigh injury sustained during the Gunners' loss against Manchester United.
The French coach was hopeful about his recovery for the weekend clash ahead of Arsenal's midweek game against BATE Borisov, but it looks to be taking a little longer than expected. Wenger is hopeful that the German defender can return for their game against West Ham United on Wednesday (13 December).
Mustafi has been impressive in the centre of Arsenal's back three, a new position after he was deployed on the right side last season. He has switched places with Laurent Koscielny and apart from the game against the Red Devils when the duo were at fault, they have formed a strong partnership alongside Nacho Monreal, who plays on the left side on Wenger's 3-4-2-1 formation.
In the Germany international's absence, Per Mertesacker, Rob Holding or Calum Chambers could come into the starting XI for the game against the Saints. Arsenal's injury record has been positive this season with Mustafi the only injured player at the moment apart from Santi Cazorla, who is a long-term absentee and not expected to return until at least February next year.
Wenger believes the lack of absentees is due to the rotation policy employed by the manager, which has seen him play two entirely different teams in the Premier League and the cup competitions – the Europa League and the Carabao Cup.
The likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, Koscielny and Hector Bellerin have not been used in the cup competitions with Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere, Mohamed Elneny and Theo Walcott among others on the fringes of the first-team being regularly used for the midweek games. Wenger has also promoted a number of youth-team players.
"The only one out at the moment is Mustafi. He is certainly not available for Sunday. There's a little chance of him coming back for West Ham, but he will not be available for Sunday," Wenger said during his pre-match press conference, as quoted on Arsenal's official site.
"I believe that rotation allowed us to protect the players a little bit, and the players who didn't play in the Europa League haven't had to travel either, so that helped," the French coach explained.
Wenger, meanwhile, brushed off any concern about an injury to Walcott, who impressed during Arsenal's midweek 6-0 win over BATE in the Europa League. The manager revealed that the striker had a tight calf, but is confident that he will be all right for the weekend's game.
The England international has struggled for game time in the league this season, playing just 46 minutes thus far. But Walcott is hopeful that his performances in the cup competitions will open the door for further appearances in the Premier League team.
"He was alright [after the game]. He had a little tight calf and that's why I took him off. He looked alright after the game," Wenger said talking about concerns over Walcott's injury.