Wenger ready to hand Arshavin Arsenal debut

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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger has confirmed that Andrei Arshavin will make his Arsenal debut against Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium today as the Gunners aim to maintain their push for a top-four place. With Chelsea, in fourth, travelling to third-placed Aston Villa earlier in the day, Arsenal will close the gap on one of their Champions League rivals with a victory.

The 27-year-old has not figured since completing his protracted transfer from Zenit St Petersburg at the conclusion of the transfer window on 2 February. It had been suggested that the Russia forward, who moved for a fee of about £15m, would play some part in the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur shortly after his arrival at the club.

However, despite being named as a substitute, Arshavin did not make an appearance as the teams produced a goalless draw at White Hart Lane, where Emmanuel Eboué, who is back from suspension for today’s game, was sent off. Wenger has confirmed that Arshavin will make his Gunners bow, but is undecided whether to start the playmaker against Sunderland.

“He [Arshavin] will be involved,” Wenger said. “But I have not decided what I will do with him yet.” Arshavin has not played a competitive match since the end of the Russian Premier League season in late November, but Wenger expects the player to reach full fitness next week.

“He is still working on preparation and is not qualified for the game against Roma [in the Champions League on Tuesday] so we can give him another week of hard work,” Wenger said. “At the end of next week, that will be three weeks with us and one week with Zenit, that should be enough.

“He can integrate well our combination game, he can move very well, he is very mobile so that is something we work on as well. He is a clever passer of the ball and that is something you need in every big team to open teams up.”

Wenger, though, warned against placing too much expectation on the Russian. “You have to give everybody who comes in time to adapt, to adjust,” the Arsenal manager said. “I know him quite well on his vision, his passing ability, his quick brain. That is something which is very important in the modern game.

“He has personality, he has a strong character. The handicap he has at the moment is that he is not completely fit, but all the rest should be quite quick. Anyway, we will take the needed time. We will not put him under pressure, if he needs a bit longer he takes a bit longer.

“At the moment we have many players in that area injured like [Cesc] Fabregas, like [Tomas] Rosicky, like [Theo] Walcott, so there is a position to take as a creative midfielder.”