Can improved strength in depth offset traditional curses?
It’s November. It’s a trip to Old Trafford. The perfect storm of Arsenal misfortune has aligned, perfectly coinciding with the hint of an injury crisis.
Only a fortnight ago I was writing about Arsenal’s undeniable improvement in squad depth. Now, according to most reports, we are paying Mourinho a visit sans our first and second choice right-back, our best central midfielder and four of our first five choice strikers. And that’s before this week’s international fixtures attempt to make things any worse.
For once, however, it’s hard to fault the club when it comes to the accumulation of injuries. In a most un-Wenger-like fashion, none of our current issues can be attributed to rushing people back too soon, or over-playing limited options until bits start dropping off them. Short of not training or playing any of the squad, it’s hard to see how any of the injuries could have been avoided by club management.
Santi Cazorla’s issue is a long ongoing one, the uncertainty surrounding which explains why his contract hasn’t yet been renewed. Debuchy has been injured on and off since his previous major injuries, both with the club and on loan, and has yet to reach full fitness. Welbeck’s injury was a freak accident on the pitch, Akpom’s stress fracture was also simply misfortune and Lucas was crocked by a nasty and totally unnecessary challenge from some non-entity in the dying embers of a dead league cup game.
Elsewhere, Bellerin’s problem is another gift of international week and its clear that Chile’s use of Alexis doesn’t take his club career into consideration. The latter is a particularly difficult one to resolve as his status within the Chile team as a player and talisman, and as a public figure, is such that it makes him very hard to leave out for a manager not over-burdened with talent unless fundamentally incapable of playing. This isn’t helped by both his seemingly insatiable work-ethic and desire to play regardless of consequences.
While under normal circumstances a club may try to be more forceful in limiting a player’s risk taking, with Alexis simultaneously competing with Ozil for the role of main man, and showing some reluctance to renew his contract, it’s understandable that the club are reluctant to play hardball over his international ambitions.
All of which adds up to a slightly uncomfortable situation heading up the M6. Being able to select the starting XI who banished that Chelsea blues would have Gooners feeling a lot more enthusiasm for the journey than will probably be the case.
Both Mourinho and Manchester United have profited from the visit of under strength Arsenal teams far too often in recent years, and in a way United’s current incoherent amalgamation of mercenaries are less inhibited by a few injuries, due to the lack of any real team flow to lose. The fear is made worse by the grumpy Portuguese’s penchant for ramping up physical conflict levels and sucking the oxygen and joy out of matches. A broken mess of a match plays more to their strengths than ours.
That said, despite other tough matches hot on the heels of United, there are some reasons for optimism.
Unlike last year, the drop off in quality in the midfield engine room is not nearly as dramatic, in terms of either ability or functionality. At right-back, although Jenkinson is hardly the dream solution, three weeks ago we would have been forced to move Mustsfi and upset our central defensive apple cart.
Up front, although our options are very limited, it’s important to remember that our man waiting in the wings has hardly disgraced himself as first choice over the last three years. On top of that, despite his limitations, Giroud seldom hides, and might fancy his chances against a weakened United backline and again against a cultured but not desperately robust PSG central defensive partnership.
We are now at the point where our improved squad strength is really being tested for the first time. And the fixtures dictate that another couple of draws wouldn’t be disastrous results in the broader context of the season. I hope fans remember that over the next fortnight.
That said, it sure would be nice to put that November curse to bed for once!