Arsene Wenger admitted his Arsenal squad was “a bit short” after the injury to Aaron Ramsey and suspension of Granit Xhaka.
The Gunners chief confirmed on Friday that Ramsey faces three weeks on the sidelines after picking up a calf injury in the surprise 2-1 home defeat to Watford on Tuesday which leaves the Gunners adrift.
With Xhaka serving a ban for his second red card of the season, Mohamed Elneny in the final of the African Cup of Nations with Egypt, Jack Wilshere on loan at Bournemouth and Santi Cazorla and now Ramsey both injured, Wenger’s options are limited.
Francis Coquelin will surely start in his most natural role but there is no obvious partner for the Frenchman, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain having played in Ramsey’s place after replacing him against Watford.
Wenger could opt to start with the England man – who faces a fitness test after taking a knock to the knee against the Hornets – or turn to youngster Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who impressed there in the recent 5-0 FA Cup win over Southampton but has never started a Premier League game.
“Yes, we are a bit short at the moment,” Wenger conceded.
“But I think we have young players who can do well in there. We have Jeff Reine-Adelaide, we have of course Maitland-Niles, we have Chamberlain. (Alex) Iwobi can play in there. Elneny will come back after Sunday, so I still have some strengths.”
Despite dropping further behind Chelsea following the damaging defeat to Watford – Wenger does not believe defeat at Stamford Bridge, which would take the hosts 12 points clear of their opponents, will not rule his side out of the title race.
“I don’t know, but in a press conference you always have to deal with the ‘ifs’,” he added.
“I believe what’s most important is that we turn up with a positive performance. We have shown in the first game that we can beat Chelsea so let’s turn up with the same quality and show a straight response.
“What is at stake is how well we respond, in a united way and in a determined way, to get there and play our game.”
As well as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud also faces a fitness test ahead of the contest having been replaced at half-time in midweek.