Henrikh Mkhitaryan is poised to make his Arsenal debut when Arsene Wenger’s side resume their Premier League campaign at bottom club Swansea City on Tuesday.
The Gunners head to South Wales boosted by their League Cup semi-final triumph over Chelsea and rested following a free weekend, a consequence of the holders’ early exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Championship side Nottingham Forest.
Mkhitaryan’s arrival from Manchester United also means Wenger’s players have been able to prepare for the game without the sideshow caused by Alexis Sanchez’s protracted departure from the Emirates Stadium.
The swap deal that saw Sanchez and Mkhitaryan change clubs has drawn a line under a saga that was threatening to destabilise the second half of Arsenal’s season.
But with Sanchez gone, Wenger hopes he can rebuild his side around the axis of Armenian playmaker Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil.
The extent to which that partnership can flourish will depend on whether Ozil opts to stay at Arsenal beyond the end of his current contract which expires at the end of this season.
– ‘Great player’ –
There have been reports suggesting the Germany playmaker could be in line for and Old Trafford reunion with Sanchez and Wenger admitted he is not yet sure what Ozil’s future holds.
“Not close enough to be optimistic and not far enough to be pessimistic,” was Wenger’s assessment of negotiations with Ozil when he spoke at a media briefing.
“The vibes I get from his commitment, his focus and his desire for achievement with the team is that he behaves like someone who is completely focused and committed and ready to commit but after that contract negotiations are what they are.”
The Frenchman added: “We are not close enough to tell you ‘Yes, he will do it.’ I don’t know.”
It is clear, though, the manager sees the relationship between Ozil and Mkhitaryan as key to Arsenal’s hopes of forcing their way into the top four.
“As I have said before, we signed Mkhitaryan on a long-term contract and our intention is to keep Ozil at the club and hopefully we will manage to do that very soon,” said Wenger.
The Arsenal boss’s first task will be to restore Mkhitaryan’s confidence after the player found himself frequently sidelined under United manager Jose Mourinho.
“You see straight away that he’s a great football player, which we knew before we got him here,” said Wenger on Friday. “After that, I will know more about him in two or three days.
“We now have two or three good days to prepare (and find out) what the best possible position is for him and how quickly he can integrate the way we want to play. It doesn’t look like there will be any problem in there.”
Swansea have been revived since the appointment of manager Carlos Carvalhal although the weekend FA Cup draw at fourth-tier Notts County was a step backwards.
The Swans must now accommodate a replay into a testing schedule, although the fact they avoided an embarrassing defeat by the League Two club did at least extend their unbeaten run to five games.
Midfielder Renato Sanches limped out of the cup clash with a hamstring problem and is now doubtful for the Arsenal visit although Carvalhal insists the performances of a number of fringe players have strengthened his hand.
“We put a lot of players in who have not been involved in games recently,” said the manager. “Most of the players will be ready to play against Arsenal on Tuesday, which is good for my selection.
“They have got some minutes, and that will help them come into selection for Tuesday.”