Premier League leaders Liverpool received a significant boost ahead of the visit of Arsenal after manager Jurgen Klopp revealed midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could play again this season.
As if a six-point lead at the top of the table was not enough, the Reds, who are seeking to go unbeaten for their opening 20 matches for the first time in 30 years, have been handed more good news.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was expected to be sidelined for 12 months after rupturing multiple knee ligaments in the Champions League semi-final first-leg win at home to Roma in April, but returned to running outdoors this week.
Klopp believes he could be back in full training by the end of February and therefore play before the end of the campaign.
“Best news, best news. It is a surprise,” said the manager.
“No pressure on him, but it looks like February maybe he is back in normal training, late February/March, so that gives us hope he will be back this season.
“If anyone from the medical department is listening to what I said, they’ll probably have a breakdown, but how it looks is really good.
“Usually we are not that excited about something like this – a lot of things can happen after being out for that long a time – but it looks so positive.
“It is a boost for the whole dressing room because he is such an important part of that. Even though he is only around and doesn’t train with us it is important.
“He is ahead of schedule and that is always good news and now we hope not to push him too much, but not hold him back.
“We don’t have to talk too much about his progress the next couple of weeks or probably two months, but if he makes further steps like he did in the last few weeks he can play Premier League football this season, which is nice to know.”
While the spirit within the camp has been lifted with sight of Oxlade-Chamberlain outdoors again, there has been some dissent, with defender Alberto Moreno voicing frustration at a lack of game time to Spanish radio.
The form of left-back Andrew Robertson means the Spaniard, out of contract in the summer, has made just four appearances this season and he told Cadena Sur he did not like the way Klopp had treated him.
“I’m not prepared to say something to be honest,” said the Reds boss.
“How I deal with things like that is usually – my door is not always literally open, but it’s always open if somebody wants to talk. As long as they don’t talk to me, it doesn’t really exist.
“But that Alberto is not happy with not having too much minutes, it’s obvious. The more important thing is he never shows it in any training sessions, he’s a fantastic professional and trains really well when he can.”
Liverpool have been installed as the new title favourites after Manchester City surprisingly lost back-to-back matches, dropping them to third, seven points adrift.
City, Chelsea and Arsenal are the only three teams Klopp’s side have not beaten so far this season, with the Gunners the last, on November 3, to take two points off them in the 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal have only recently seen a 14-match unbeaten league run brought to an end and manager Unai Emery admitted Liverpool could match the club’s ‘Invincibles’ feat of 2003-04.
“Was the question for Unai Emery, ‘Do you think Liverpool can go unbeaten?’ Is that a normal answer then?” said a dismissive Klopp.
“That’s not how I know Unai Emery (taking pressure off his team). I don’t think that the white flag has been raised, it will be a tough game tomorrow night. They are good and that is all I am interested in.”