Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez has ended his self-imposed exile by returning to the club’s training ground this morning, Press Association Sport understands.
The 26-year-old has not trained with his team-mates since Manchester City launched a bid to sign him at the end of the January transfer window.
The Foxes blocked what would have been a dream move to the Premier League leaders for Mahrez, and he has subsequently missed the games against Everton and Swansea.
Reports claim Mahrez has made himself available for Leicester match on Saturday, which ironically is against Manchester City, but at his press conference on Thursday manager Claude Puel said the Algerian would not be involved.
Puel refused to give any indication whether he had spoken to Mahrez since his absence began on January 30, whether he knew the whereabouts of the player, or if he could put a date on a return, with club officials stressing that keeping details confidential is paramount in adhering to employment law.
However, the Leicester boss did say that he hoped to have Mahrez back in contention as soon as possible, hinting that he may need to work on his fitness first. Mahrez has not played since January 20.
“I hope he can come back with a good attitude very soon, this is the best solution,” said Puel. “I hope he comes back and works hard, but he will need time. And time to be match fit.”
Languishing in sixth place in the Premier League, Wenger’s side are however just four points behind fifth placed Tottenham.
With their hopes of a top four place and qualification for the Champions League hanging in the balance, the Gunners can ill-afford a damaging defeat at the hands of their hated neighbours on Saturday, while Tottenham are also a point adrift of the top four and desperate to avoid defeat.
Given the high stakes amid the fight for local bragging rights, the crowd of over 80,000 are certain to make it a frenzied occasion.
Wenger knows players can lose their composure if they get swept up by the derby atmosphere.
And, with new boys Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan making their maiden north London derby appearances and Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli in the midst of a diving storm, the Arsenal manager cautioned his players to stay focused.
“There is always huge passion before the game and the emotion at stake that becomes a bit more agitated,” he said.
“It is always a game that is charged emotionally.
“For us, it is an opportunity to come back closer to the Champions League places, which is a priority.”
Although Arsenal beat Tottenham 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in November, they haven’t won an away league game against their rivals since 2014.
Fortunately, for Wenger’s men, with Tottenham playing their home games at Wembley this season while White Hart Lane is rebuilt, it will be the first north London derby at the national stadium since 1993.
Arsenal won 1-0 on that occasion in the FA Cup semi-finals, avenging a 3-1 loss to Tottenham at the same stage of that competition two years earlier.
Wembley is a happy hunting ground for Arsenal’s current generation as well.
They have won their last nine games at the national stadium, including a penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in this season’s Community Shield.
Asked if he preferred the game to be at Wembley, Wenger said: “Yes, because we have a positive history there.
“Of course Wembley is a pitch that is quality, a stadium with a big crowd and it is always a special day in your mind so overall, yes.
“At Wembley you play special games where you are under pressure to perform and we responded well to it every time.”
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech is a doubt having been forced off with a calf injury in the win over Everton last week.
Tottenham are unbeaten in their last eight league games, and boss Mauricio Pochettino has not given up hope of pipping Manchester United to second place.
Defeating Arsenal would help that ambition, while carrying the added bonus of derailing Arsenal.
“I believe we can finish second. Of course we’re going to fight for that to happen,” Pochettino said.
“The gap is not massive but it will be tough. It’s key on Saturday to win the game, to be in the race for the top four.”
Pochettino believes former Paris Saint Germain winger Lucas Moura, who arrived last month, is ready to make his debut, possibly as a substitute.
“I think he will be ready to be in contention for Saturday,” Pochettino said.
“He is starting to feel the legs. We need to assess him, but after the last session I hope we can put him in contention.”
Striker Andre Ayew has defended African players after former West Ham director of recruitment Tony Henry questioned their attitude.
West Ham sacked Henry after the Daily Mail claimed he said they no longer wanted to sign African players because “they have a bad attitude” and “cause mayhem” when not selected.
Ghana striker Ayew, who left West Ham on transfer deadline day to re-join Swansea just as the Henry race row erupted, dismissed the stereotyping of African footballers.
“Maybe an African player can be difficult, but maybe a French or English player can be difficult too,” Ayew said.
“But maybe an African player can be calm too, so it’s not possible to say everyone is the same.
“I just know that we African players are proud of ourselves, we know where we have come from, and we believe in our football.
“African players – like Didier Drogba – have played at the greatest clubs in the world and done their jobs. We have done a lot to get into professional football and African footballers now play for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea.
“It’s an honour to be an African. I am so proud and so happy and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
West Ham’s Senegalese midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate posted “African and proud” on his Instagram account the day after Henry’s comments were made public.
The post was liked by Manuel Lanzini, Adrian, Pedro Obiang and Arthur Masuaku, all current West Ham players, but Ayew insists his former team-mates will continue to give their all for the club despite the row.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone at West Ham, but it’s our job as footballers to play,” Ayew said.
“West Ham have taken a decision and I know that the African players are going to fight for their club. I know them really well, I know they are going to stick to their team and help them.”
Ayew could make his second Swansea debut at home to Burnley on Saturday after recovering from a hamstring problem. The 28-year-old re-joined Swansea for £18million, 18 months after leaving for West Ham in a £20.5million deal.
“I looked at other options, but I felt like my job here wasn’t yet done.” said Ayew, who has been reunited with his brother and former Marseille team-mate Jordan.
“It wasn’t a really difficult decision. When the club came up and said they were interested in me coming back, I took time, I looked at different options and I had a few in England or outside.
“I left Swansea with a great feeling and the relationship I had with the fans was unbelievable. I felt that the club has what it takes to stay up, and I can add something to that.”
Swansea have suffered another injury blow after season-ending injuries to Wilfried Bony and Leroy Fer, with manager Carlos Carvalhal confirming veteran defender Angel Rangel needs groin surgery.