A home fixture against Swansea is just around the corner, following two away draws on the trot to a struggling Aston Villa and a resurgent Everton. While Arsenal fans would be utterly frustrated to leave Villa Park with just a solitary point, we must be thankful for the point gained at Goodison Park.
Arsenal began brightly with a quick-fire goal from Theo Walcott, but Marouane Fellaini’s sweetly curled effort was enough to hand Everton a share of the spoils in the battle of Goodison. After the game, Arsene Wenger acknowledged that his team showed great spirit, labeling the game as a match of physical intensity.
He wrapped up his post-match interview with this bit:
We are building a new team. We now have Wilshere back. Hopefully we can go from strength to strength. We have the spirit. I feel we have some room for improvement in the final third. Overall, when you have the spirit, you have a chance. We have to show that now. We have to be consistent.
I can’t argue with Wenger on the physical intensity of the battle of Goodison, which cost Arsenal two of its most valiant warriors. Following Andre Santos' fall from glory, Thomas Vermaelen’s redeployment as a left-back has granted Laurent Koscielny a place in the starting lineup. The Frenchman has justified his inclusion, picking up where he left off from last season.
But as early as the third minute of play in Goodison Park, Koscielny picked up a groin injury. He’s set to be out for three weeks, which means that he’ll miss out of the Premier League ties against Swansea, West Brom and Reading as well as the Champions League game against Olympiakos and the Capital One quarterfinal against Bradford City.
Per Mertesacker has been an ever-present figure this season, and the timing of Kieran Gibbs' return from his injury is absolutely perfect.
This means that Vermaelen would return to his favoured center back role alongside the BFG, while Gibbs will continue to maraud the left flank with Lukas Podolski, when he returns from his illness. Aaron Ramsey played in Podolski’s stead on Wednesday night, and he didn’t do half bad in my opinion.
There was also another injury concern in Goodison Park, as Bacary Sagna looks set to miss this weekend’s clash against Swansea after picking up a foot injury. In the early part of his Arsenal career, Sagna had been a player who was synonymous with optimal fitness levels, which ultimately brought an end to Farmer Emmanuel Eboue’s career in North London.
In the turn of the year, Sagna has suffered two major leg fractures, and it’s pleasing to see how he has integrated himself into the team, as if he had never left. Long-term injury returnees like Eduardo da Silva, Abou Diaby and even Aaron Ramsey have become shadows of the players they used to be, with the exception of Diaby perhaps.
Prior to the injury that ended his career at Arsenal, Eduardo sent chills down the spines of opposition defenders due to his predatory off-the-ball movement and clinical finishing ability. Eduardo was the No. 9 Arsenal fans craved, and his exploits in the 2007/08 campaign will be fondly remembered.
However, his injury suffered in St. Andrews in February 2008 marked the start of a cataclysmic chain of events that crippled Arsenal’s fortunes.
It had all started with that mercenary William Gallas crying like a toddler on the pitch, then the disappointing string of draws followed, and lastly the losses to fellow title contenders, Chelsea and Manchester United, which sent Arsenal’s title challenge down the drain.
The class of 2010/11 came close to achieving the feats of the 2007/08 team; however, as usual, injuries, suspensions, poor officiating and squad indiscipline played a role in making Arsenal the first team involved in a two-horse race for the title to finish in fourth place.
Another point I could make would be the quality of the 2010/11 squad compared to the team that almost won the title in the 2007/08 campaign. Arsenal had a somewhat consistent and blond-haired Manuel Almunia in goal with a defensive rearguard of Gael Clichy, William Gallas, Kolo Toure and then-debutant, Bacary Sagna.
The midfield was blessed with a vast array of creative talent with Tomas Rosicky and Aliaksandr Hleb, who provided flair, attacking prowess, wit and guile through the flanks. Cesc Fabregas was at the tip of the quartet, and he had the backing of the midfield enforcer, Mathieu Flamini, "the Flanimal," who did the dirty work behind.
With Robin van Persie doing what was he was known for (chilling with the physios on the treatment table), Eduardo, Emmanuel Adebayor and sometimes Nicklas Bendtner were tasked with banging in the goals for the Gunners.
Despite Adebayor’s 30-goal haul in that campaign, Arsenal finished the league in third place. They crashed out of the FA Cup following a disappointing 4-0 defeat to Manchester United, they lost out in the Carling Cup courtesy of a 2-0 loss to Burnley marred by Bendtner’s profligacy and no one will ever forget the crushing 5-3 aggregate Champions League defeat to Liverpool.
Arsenal had its obvious injury worries that season, but the squad depth was more than enough to fill up the vacuums created by the loss of a first-team player, a feat that’s hard to achieve nowadays at Arsenal.
Abou Diaby’s injury crisis began as far back as May 2006, but in my honest opinion, the lanky Frenchman continues to suffer from Dan Smith’s horrific tackle in the Stadium of Light.
This was epitomized by the shocking event in Anfield last season, where he came on only to be withdrawn after five minutes or so. I don’t even think that he had a chance to sweat as he was hardly involved in any piece of the action prior to his substitution.
This season, Diaby has turned out to be a revelation, and his performance in Anfield in September would go down as one of his best in his fledgling Arsenal career. However, another trademark injury has kept the maestro out till further notice, with Christmas being a realistic target for his return.
Many Arsenal fans feel that it’s high time the boss cuts his losses and cashes in on Diaby, but Arsene Wenger's undying and blinding faith in this player continues to hinder any potential move away from the Emirates. However, I won’t raise any eyebrows if a fully fit Diaby will be seeking greener pastures elsewhere, stating that he and the club do not agree on how the club is to move forward.
Aaron Ramsey is another player who hasn't returned to his best form after his long-awaited return from the leg fracture suffered in the Britannia Stadium in February 2010. With Jack Wilshere out of the way following a loan spell with Bolton, Ramsey fought hard with Denilson and Diaby to get a chance to partner with Fabregas and Alex Song.
Ramsey’s best form as a Gunner was showcased in the autumn/winter of 2009, and he has been under so much stick from last season and this season as well. I’ve always felt that Ramsey’s best position for the Gunners is the box-to-box role he manned alongside Fabregas in the 2008/09 season. Pushing him further up the pitch as Arsenal’s primary playmaker last season was a failed experiment by Arsene Wenger, which took its toll on his performances and fitness levels as well.
Ramsey's strengths as a player include his high work rate, strong engine, good technique and decent passing range, but adding the burden of creativity and goal getting (primary functions of a playmaker) was too much for his shoulders, which ultimately led to his poor vein of form last season.
Tomas Rosicky, an adept playmaker, displaced Ramsey in the tail end of the campaign, and we all saw how "Little Mozart" excelled in that role. In the 2007/08 campaign, Rosicky thrived on the left wing, cutting in and supplying those through balls like hot knife through butter, but a hamstring injury suffered in January 2008 abruptly ended his campaign. If my memory serves me right, he was out for the best part of 18 months or so.
This season, the injury gods continue to ravage Arsenal, and every playing position has been affected.
In between the sticks, Lukasz Fabianski is currently facing a long spell on the sidelines, and Wojciech Szczesny has had some ankle problems as well. Had Wenger sold Vito Mannone to Hull City or other potential suitors, we would have handed first-team action to the likes of Damian Martinez or James Shea this season.
Martinez has had a run-out in the Capital One Cup, and his last performance against Reading was nothing to write home about. Usually, a goalkeeper who concedes as much as five goals in a game is usually on the losing side, but Martinez had the likes of Theo Walcott and Marouane Chamakh to thank, as they brought their scoring boots to Madejski Stadium.
The defense has had its fair share of injuries as well, with Sagna failing to start this campaign after breaking his leg against Norwich in May. Injury regular Kieran Gibbs has had a spell as well and, from what we have been told, Koscielny will be out for a while as well.
The midfield and attack have their own long list of injured players as well as returnees.
I have learned that there are four constants: death, taxes, England losing on penalties and Arsenal players suffering mysterious injuries.
In Arsenal, I’ve seen injuries make the striking personnel so thin-bare, that the club had to resort to a Russian hobbit to play as its center forward. I’ve also seen a somewhat puzzling injury crisis, where the club lost all its recognized fullbacks for a lengthy spell, forcing its center backs to become make-shift fullbacks.
Injuries have become a norm in football. It’s fair to say that it has affected Arsenal so badly, that it’s becoming an excuse when we fail to win games…other excuses like lacking sharpness and bad officiating come in from time to time.
Arsenal’s current first team has already been plagued with fatigue, and it’s sad to know that the second-tier lineup isn’t up to scratch in some playing positions.
I can sleep well at night knowing that Carl Jenkinson is ready to step up when Sagna is out, and I’m sure that I will press the panic button if anything happens to Olivier Giroud right now. Theo Walcott has been dying to get a chance as a center forward, but his fitness has been a concern all season.
That’s enough talk for one post. Feel free to share your comments.
This article is also featured in Toni Okike's Arsenal blog, Gooner Daily