Injured Arsenal stars Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla to miss Olympiakos Champions League decider
Arsenal are almost certain to be without both Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla for their decisive Champions League group match against Olympiakos in Athens next Wednesday.
The full results of scans on the two players are due over the next 48 hours but the fear is that Sanchez will be out for around a month with a hamstring tear and that Cazorla has suffered knee ligament damage.
There is more positive news, however, on striker Theo Walcott, who has a chance to return for Saturday's Premier League match against Sunderland following his calf injury while Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs should also both resume training this week following respective hip and calf problems.
Koscielny was forced off after only 10 minutes of Arsenal's 1-1 draw against Norwich City while Gibbs did not even make the trip to Carrow Road.
The main concern surrounds Sanchez and Cazorla who both suffered their injuries during the second-half of Sunday’s match following a demanding schedule that has seen them each play 24 times since the start of August, including every Premier League and Champions League fixture for Arsenal.
Sanchez damaged his hamstring in the 60th minute of what was his 90th football match for club and country since joining Arsenal 16 months ago. Manager Arsene Wenger had already been concerned about Sanchez's hamstring before the match and was looking for an opportunity to rest him but was also worried about rushing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back too quickly following injury. It is thought that he was planning to rest Sanchez against Sunderland on Saturday or Aston Villa the following week although former captain Thierry Henry has questioned why he did not bring Sanchez off when Arsenal were comfortably beating Dinamo Zagreb last Tuesday.
His decision to play Sanchez from the start of the season after the Chile striker had trained at Arsenal for only four days following his summer holiday is also under scrutiny. “At the moment, we are a bit short,” explained Wenger. “Walcott is not there, Chamberlain coming back, Welbeck not there. I could take a gamble on one.”
Arsenal will now pay a heavy price, with the club needing to beat Olympiakos in Athens by the same score or better as their 3-2 defeat by the Greek champions at The Emirates to progress to the last 16 of the Champions League. Sanchez, who has either scored or assisted in a third of all Arsenal's goals in 2015, is also a major doubt for the vital Premier League match against Manchester City on Dec 21.
The scan results will determine whether he will miss the entire festive schedule of matches, with Arsenal now preparing to play seven matches in a month with a squad that has been significantly depleted by injuries.
The loss of key players had already had a noticeable impact on the performances since the high point of consecutive home wins against Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Everton, with the team having now not won in the Premier League for three matches. Aaron Ramsey, who himself was making his full comeback from injury in the Norwich match, will be seen as the natural replacement for Cazorla in the more attacking of the two central midfield positions alongside Mathieu Flamini.
Should Ramsey shuffle inside and Sanchez remain sidelined for a significant period, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell are then likely to start in the wide attacking midfield positions. Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Danny Welbeck and Francis Coquelin are all also out until at least the New Year while captain Mikel Arteta is hoping to be back from his calf injury within the next fortnight.