Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta kept his cards close to his chest when asked about Gabriel Jesus’ availability for the Gunners’ Europa League last-16 first-leg clash with Sporting.
The Brazil forward has not featured since requiring surgery on a knee injury suffered at the World Cup but has recently returned to training.
A potential return date has been a closely-guarded secret within London Colney and Arteta has already batted away questions on whether he expects Jesus back before the international break later this month.
UEFA rules mean the opening 15 minutes of training on the eve of matches are open to the media and Jesus was seen working alongside his team-mates in preparation.
But Arteta was tight-lipped when he arrived in Lisbon, insisting any news surrounding his squad would be released ahead of kick-off.
“News on the squad will be tomorrow,” he said.
“We have brought a few players and you will see tomorrow who is available.”
Arsenal’s official social media channels showed a number of players boarding the flight to Lisbon, which was delayed due to adverse weather in the UK, and Jesus was not one of those filmed.
When directly asked if Jesus had travelled, an Arsenal spokesperson also refused to comment.
Arteta did, however, say he would attempt not to fast-track Jesus back into action despite having Eddie Nketiah and Leandro Trossard missing through injury.
“We will try not to rush him back,” he said.
“We will try to make a fair assessment between what he needs and when is comfortable and as well giving the team a boost that it’s going to need in the next few weeks for sure.
“Everything is going well, he needs time as well to get himself that confidence and that physical state that is necessary to compete with a free mind and once he’s free to do that, we will throw him in.”
Arteta may be tempted to shuffle his pack with the Gunners returning to European action while leaving behind a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
Asked why he has not been a manager who rotates often, the Spaniard replied: “Because we have one team and we have to play the games with the best possible players to win it.
“There have been moments where we have made eight changes. We try to accommodate.
“Players have moments throughout the season, players are available and not available throughout the season. For sure we will try to pick the best team to win the game.
“Of course everyone wants to play. It’s true as well when we’ve wanted to rotate players they’ve been injured and unavailable. Tomorrow that may be the case.
“Sometimes it’s been difficult and players have to deserve to play the minutes. Being fair in football is very difficult. Our priority is the two competitions. We have to earn the right in that competition to continue as far as we want.
“Tomorrow we’re going to face a really difficult opponent. The best way to prepare any competition is to win the previous match and having that confidence and that proper emotion to approach the next game.
“Tomorrow we will if we play well and are able to win the game, for sure we’ll be able to prepare better for the next game.”
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