ARSENAL is facing a dilemma in midfield ahead of the most important week of the season so far.
And decided to allow Ainsley Maitland-Niles joins Roma loan backfired, after Granit Xhaka tested positive for Covid over the weekend.
That means 22-year-old Albert Sambi Lokonga and 18-year-old rookie Charlie Patino will be the only central midfielders available for Thursday’s trip to Liverpool in the delayed Carabao Cup semi-final first leg.
Xhaka, 29 years old, who refused to be vaccinated before he test positive while on international duty with Switzerland last September, is currently isolated with striker Folarin Balogun, 20.
And although he will be quarantined before the weekend, he will miss a week of practice before the game against Spurs, who are two places behind Arteta in sixth place.
But with the departures of Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny at the Africa Cup of Nations, Arteta is hoping to bolster his squad with an emergency loan deal.
He knows it’s important for his team to keep their nerve after previous consecutive defeats City of Manchester in the Premier League and Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup.
But with Spurs’ tie between the two legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final, the next ten days could greatly affect the Gunners’ trophy ambitions and secure a top-four spot.
Arteta was extremely impressed by the efforts of his players in Sunday’s shocking opening game.
No one has had it more difficult than Patino, who has been substituted 21 minutes since finishing his first game for the club.
Now Arteta wants to protect the promising youngster from unrealistic expectations at such an important stage of his career.
And he will be reluctant to include Patino in the starting lineup at Anfield on Thursday with so much at stake. That could mean Martin Odegaard dropping deeper or a defender, such as Ben White or Calum Chambers, moving into midfield.
But no solution is perfect, causing even greater disappointment about the timing of Maitland-Niles’ departure for Roma.
Arteta was extremely reluctant to allow England international leave until the end of the month for fear of lack of coverage.
But both Maitland-Niles and Roma manager Jose Mourinho have made it clear they are not prepared to wait – and now Arteta’s worst fears have come true.
To add to the injury insult, central midfielders Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira have also been loaned out to Arsenal and will need to be sold to fund any potential new signings.
Arteta spoke about his midfield problems last week and stated: “We will be looking for options because we are very lacking there.”
But he looked less optimistic after Sunday’s defeat, admitting: “I think it’s clear where we need to strengthen but for now we have to try to bring out the full potential of the players. player that we have.”
⚽ Read ours Move blog News Live for the latest gossip, gossip and deals done
https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/17282522/arsenal-charlie-patino-liverpool-arteta/ Arsenal have only TWO midfielders – including teenage Charlie Patino – to match Liverpool with Arteta in the race to save the season