Thursday 23 November 2017

Alexis Sanchez fitness boost for Arsenal ahead of FA Cup final

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Alexis Sanchez is expected to shake off a thigh injury in time for Arsenal's showdown with Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Sanchez limped off against Everton last weekend but is likely to be passed fit while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also in contention after recovering from a hamstring strain.

Laurent Koscielny, however, is suspended and Gabriel will miss out with a knee injury, meaning Per Mertesacker could make his first start in almost 13 months.

Late decisions will also be made on Kieran Gibbs, who has a thigh problem, and Shkodran Mustafi, who is struggling with illness.

Provisional squad: Cech, Ospina, Martinez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott, Iwobi, Sanchez, Perez, Welbeck, Giroud.

Meanwhile, Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been studying Brazilian wing-back Dani Alves in a bid to earn a starting spot in Saturday's FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is fighting Hector Bellerin for what is likely to be the right-sided role in the 3-4-2-1 formation that has proven key to the Gunners' resurgence in recent weeks.

His pace and athleticism make him a natural fit in that position but he trails Bellerin in terms of experience there, having spent most of his career either in central midfield or further forward on the flanks.

To adapt to the defensive responsibilities required, Oxlade-Chamberlain said he has been watching his fellow wing-backs at work, including the 34-year-old Alves at Juventus.

"When I've watched teams that play with five at the back and wing-backs, I've looked at their starting positions and positions out of possession because that comes a little bit more unnaturally to me," Oxlade-Chamberlain said.

I take note of anyone when they play. Tottenham play with that formation, Chelsea play with that formation. There's a lot of teams who have played with that formation, so I watch all the full backs, the left back, the right back.

"There's nobody in particular that springs to mind. When I've watched Dani Alves recently, he might not play the five at the back, but the way he plays, he marches on and he adds a lot in an attacking sense as well as defensively. Players like that, you watch and you learn from them."

Oxlade-Chamberlain looked to have made the wing-back role his own when he made five starts out of six towards the end of April but his momentum was checked by a hamstring injury, sustained against Southampton two weeks ago.

He returned to training this week and is determined to contribute at Wembley, having missed Arsenal's FA Cup triumph completely in 2014 and come on only as a late substitute when they lifted the trophy again 12 months later, each time due to injury.

"It's a bit of a trend. When it happened (this year), I thought, 'Oh no, here we go again'," Oxlade-Chamberlain said.

Arsenal are hoping a surprise win over Chelsea, who are going for a league and cup double, can help to reduce the disappointment of failing to finish inside the top four for the first time since 1996.

"The season's been an odd one," Oxlade-Chamberlain said.

"When you're in football, winning trophies is what it's all about. It will obviously be a bonus this season to finish on a more positive note.

"There will obviously be that feeling of wanting to finish higher up the league. There's no doubting that and we can't hide from it. We need to own up to that.

"But it's a big trophy, one that we want to win and it will definitely boost morale going into next season."

Victory would also make Arsene Wenger the most successful manager in the history of the competition by moving him one ahead of George Ramsay's record six FA Cup triumphs.

Wenger is yet to confirm if he will still be in charge at Arsenal next season, with an announcement expected following a club board meeting next week.

"He has been a massive influence on my career," Oxlade-Chamberlain said.

"He took me from League one into a massive club in the Premier League and Champions League. That changed my career and my future, ultimately.

"We all respect our manager massively and we want to give him the win just as much as we want to give the fans the win. That's the most important thing. It is Arsenal Football Club. Everyone here wants to win.

"Obviously the League form has not allowed us to do that and it has not been good enough in that sense but we find ourselves in a final with an opportunity to do that.

"We want to deliver for the manager, ourselves, the club and the fans as well. So all of those things go hand in hand. We are there to win for all of our sakes."

Press Association

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