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Men’s football Palmer a doubt for Chelsea’s clash with Arsenal due to illness

COLE PALMER is a doubt for Chelsea’s visit to Arsenal tomorrow with Mauricio Pochettino confirming the Premier League’s joint-top scorer is likely to miss the game at Ashburton Grove with illness.

The 21-year-old did not train today following his side’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City on Saturday, a loss that left them needing to secure a top-seven finish in the league if they are to end their year-long absence from European competition.

The England international has been the standout player of an indifferent season for Chelsea, with seven goals in the team’s last two home games having rocketed him to the top of the scoring charts alongside City striker Erling Haaland.

He has frequently been the decisive factor when the team have performed well, helping Pochettino’s side throw off the creative inertia that blunted their attack last season and in the early weeks of the current campaign.

A win against Mikel Arteta’s title-chasers would put the Argentinian’s side level on points with sixth-placed Newcastle, with a top-six finish likely to be enough for a Europa League berth.

However, the size of their task — already a daunting one with Arsenal on a run of 11 league wins in their last 13 — grew today with the fear that Palmer will likely miss out, while full-backs Ben Chilwell and Malo Gusto are also doubts.

“We need to assess [Tuesday] morning,” said Pochettino of Palmer’s chances. “Today, no, I don’t believe he can be involved. Even if he will be good tomorrow, he may not be in a condition to play.

“With and without him, we believe that we can win. The most important thing is the collective. Of course he’s an important part of the team. He’s doing fantastic for us. But we have plenty of players that can perform and do the job.”

Pochettino defended the contributions of striker Nicolas Jackson on his debut season for the club, after he missed multiple opportunities against City to put Chelsea in the final.

The 22-year-old has improved significantly in recent weeks after struggling in the aftermath of his summer move from Villarreal but three times at Wembley he failed to make the most of clear openings.

Pochettino has been forced to rely on the player, who has scored 10 goals in the league, far more than the club had intended, with fellow signing Christopher Nkunku having been limited by injury to a handful of appearances since joining from RB Leipzig.

“First season is always difficult but more when you are a striker and you have to perform and score goals. Everyone expects with every single touch to score,” Pochettino added. “He’s our main striker, the only striker we have fit.

“He’s doing fantastic. He’s doing an amazing job for the team; running, scoring goals, giving assists. His first season, a young guy, came in from Spain, even with not too much experience there.

“If we want the player to match the iconic players here, if we compare him with Drogba, obviously he’s going to lose.

“But he’s going to have all my support. Even if he doesn’t score, the way that he’s fighting for the club and his team-mates, he’s producing chances. He needs time to improve. He’ll be better next season for sure, no doubt about that.”

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