Arsene Wenger accepts captain Cesc Fabregas will take a few games to be back to his best as Arsenal prepare to enter a "decisive" period of their campaign.
The Gunners captain has not featured since suffering a serious knee injury during the Premier League clash with Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on December 21.
It is the first fixture of an action-packed April for the Gunners, who also face Villarreal in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and have an FA Cup semi-final date at Wembley with Chelsea as well as three other Premier League games - which include a trip to Anfield.
Arsenal will be looking to extend an unbeaten run of 16 league matches which has moved them back into the top four - but Wenger knows their skipper cannot be expected to be firing on all cylinders at the heart of the side straight away.
"Cesc is ready to play again, but he needs three games to be back [at his best]," Wenger said on French TV channel TF1. "We are due to play eight games in 25 days, which are all decisive."
Defender Mikael Silvestre won four Premier League medals from his time at Old Trafford and believes Arsenal's current crop of talented youngsters can soon be competing for the title once again.
"We have got to believe that we can challenge next season," said Silvestre, who signed from United in August, and is fit again following a calf injury which sidelined him since January.
"If we build on this season, which is not finished yet, there is a lot of reason to think that we must challenge from day one for the title."
Silvestre, 31, told the club's official website: "You have to make a quick start, of course, because all the best teams take points. As soon as you drop two or three points, the gap is really big."
Meanwhile, Arsenal's French international full-back Bacary Sagna has dismissed reports linking him with a summer move to Juventus.
"I am under contract with Arsenal until 2014," Sagna said. "I love this club, I get on well with all the squad and I am happy. Juve are a big team, however if Arsenal decide to sell me that is another thing altogether.
"But I am happy here and in my knowledge I am in the plans of the manager for a long time."