Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Mikel Arteta has predicted that Granit Xhaka could return to first-team action this year after being out on the injury table since late September.

Speaking to the press via Football London, the Arsenal manager claimed that Xhaka is on track to return earlier than expected. The Swiss international suffered a knee injury in the Gunners 3-1 win over Tottenham earlier in the season.

At the time, it was expected that Xhaka would be out of action until early 2022. However, the midfielder, who Arsenal reportedly signed for £35m, is way ahead of schedule. With a return to the pitch likely next month.

The former Bundesliga star has been an important player for Arteta since his return to the club. However, Xhaka’s influence has not been missed much since his injury, with the Gunners embarking on a ten-game unbeaten run.

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Indeed, with the African Cup of Nations coming up in January, a fully fit Xhaka will be crucial for Arsenal’s squad depth. And according to Arteta, Xhaka could be back by the end of this year.

The Basque coach said when asked about a return date for Xhaka: “Hopefully he is back sooner than expected, he’s in good place. I hope we can have him back before the end of the year.”

Xhaka injury update is huge with AFCON looming

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Xhaka is a player who divides Arsenal supporters like no other, however, there’s no denying that his return from injury comes at a perfect time. With Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny unavailable for the Gunners for most of January.

AFCON will see numerous players depart north London for the month, and squad depth will be crucial if Arsenal are to handle without key players. And for Xhaka, it will be the perfect opportunity to reintegrate himself into the team.

In other news, Report: Real Madrid leading the race to sign £29m player courted by Spurs and Liverpool