Injuries Have Hurt Arsenal’s Start to 21/22 Season
Two defeats in two matches represented a poor start to the 21/22 Premier League season – that fact can’t be escaped. The pressure was and still is growing on Mikel Arteta to deliver results. However, perspective is required at a time when Arsenal have been hit by a raft of injuries.
Shaky Defence Hit by Injuries
According to PremierInjuries.com, Arsenal were credited with 10 injuries as of 25 August 2021. While the majority of issues are football-related, the Gunners have been struck by a wave of Coronavirus cases. Luckily Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was able to return to the bench for the game against Chelsea, unfortunately, the Gunners suffered a 2-0 defeat.
After arriving for a fee of £52.65 million from Brighton, White was the club’s marquee signing of the summer. Despite making a shaky debut in the 2-0 loss to Brentford, White came to Arsenal after solid seasons performing for Leeds and Brighton. His rise was even recognised with a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2020.
The Arsenal defence has also missed Gabriel. In terms of injuries that jolted the sports world, this is less significant and didn’t have a serious impact on their winning odds. Most UK bookmakers have set Arsenal’s betting odds as the 6th most likely team to win the Premier League behind Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United, and Tottenham. Unfortunately, the defence was downgraded when Gabriel reported for preseason training on 1 July 2021 with tendonitis in his right knee – adding to Arteta’s already severe headache.
Against Brentford, the absence of Gabriel forced Arteta to use Pablo Marí, a 27-year-old Spanish centre-back who has never commanded a regular starting spot since arriving at the Emirates in 2019. The loss of White then precipitated the introduction of Rob Holding, who started 28 league matches last season after never starting more than nine since arriving in 2016.
Midfield Lacking Bite
Entering 2021/22, Thomas Partey owed the Gunners a full season after starting only 18 matches in 2020/21 for a fee of £45 million from Atlético Madrid. After missing only 29 days due to injury in Madrid, Partey missed 78 days and 17 matches in his first season with Arsenal. Considering his impact in the 1-0 victory over Manchester United last season, his consistent presence has been missed.
The absence of Partey has forced the early introduction of Albert Sambi Lokonga in the double-pivot alongside club captain Granit Xhaka. For perspective, Lokonga is a £15.75 million acquisition from Anderlecht in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League and was never intended to have an instant impact.
Against Brentford, Lokonga completed 63 passes and won two tackles, while Xhaka completed 78 passes and won one tackle. However, Lokonga dipped to 34 completed passes and no tackles and Xhaka completed just 32 passes. Although Xhaka made three tackles, the pair were overrun in the derby defeat against Chelsea.
In the last campaign, Gooners debated all through the season whether Arteta should play Lacazette or Aubameyang as the striker or else find a way to integrate both players in the line-up. Unfortunately, COVID deprived Arteta of both strikers for the season opener against Brentford.
Compounding the issue, Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson, and Gabriel Martinelli were all unable to start in place of the senior men. Lacking a focal point, Arteta handed a Premier League debut to 19-year-old Folarin Balogun. The youngster received a warm reception at Brentford Community Stadium, though couldn’t muster a shot on target from three attempts.
The 20-year-old Martinelli was then given a start up front against Chelsea. However, the stingy Chelsea defence restricted Martinelli to zero attempts on goal and only one penalty area touch in 79 minutes. In just 29 minutes, the more experienced Aubameyang entered the fray to register one shot on target and two penalty area touches.
Hope on the Horizon
Aubameyang is a seasoned veteran and Arsenal will be all the stronger for having him back. He made an instant impact in the 6-0 win over WBA in the EFL Cup scoring a hatrick. Even though the Gunners got trashed 5-0 by Man City, they’ve recorded three wins in a row against Norwich, Burnley, and city rivals Tottenham.
The best thing about this run is that Arsenal managed to keep a clean sheet twice, and conceded a single goal in the London derby against Tottenham. It looks like the Gunners are getting in form and have a good run of fixtures where they play Brighton (A), Crystal Palace (H), Aston Villa (H), Leicester City (A), and Watford (H). With their newfound form in their league fixtures, Arsenal would be better prepared to face Liverpool away on Saturday 20 November 2021.
For Arsenal to improve, Arteta needs to restore White and Gabriel as the starters at centre-back only then can they work to develop a solid partnership. Speaking of which, Partey’s return can only boost the effectiveness of Xhaka. In the front-line, a fit pairing of Aubameyang and Lacazette will provide a much-needed presence for Arteta.