LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP)— Mikel Arteta said Friday he hopes Arsenal defender William Saliba can return from his back injury in time to play a key role in the climax to the Premier League title race.
Saliba limped off during Arsenal's Europa League last-16 second leg defeat against Sporting Lisbon and missed the win over Crystal Palace before the recent international break.
The French centre-back, who had played every league game this season until his injury, will remain side-lined for Saturday's clash with Leeds.
But Gunners boss Arteta believes he could still feature for the Premier League leaders in the coming weeks as they chase a first title since 2004.
"He is progressing. Unfortunately he still has some discomfort in his back and we are trying to manage it in the best possible way," Arteta told reporters.
"He is not going to be fit for this game. We are trying, he is trying, to do everything he can to feel better and get him back training, but not yet.
"I am very hopeful and he is as well. Back injuries are a bit tricky...
"He is very positive about it, the medical staff are positive about it. Let's push it every day, a little bit, and see how he can cope with that and how the pain develops as well."
Arteta played down any fears that surgery may be required, but he cannot put an exact date on Saliba's return date.
"Hopefully we get the right load for him, the right amount of rest that he needs while we're keeping him active. Then the pain starts to go away and we'll be more comfortable with the images we have of him," he said.
Arsenal are eight points clear of second-placed Manchester City, who face a tough test against Liverpool just hours before the Gunners host Leeds.
City have a game in hand on Arsenal, but the destiny of the title is in the north Londoners' hands.
While Saliba remains out, Arteta confirmed Ghana midfielder Thomas Partey will be available despite concerns of an injury on international duty.
"Yes, it's something that we've done in the past as well," he said of sending a physio away with Partey while he plays for Ghana.
"We have a really good relationship with the Ghanaian federation and we have to manage and look after our players.
"He obviously wasn't fit enough to play the second game but hopefully he'll be back for the weekend."
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