Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will be fretting over the fitness of Theo Walcott.
The England winger was originally selected to face Stoke in yesterday’s Premier League clash. However, he was forced to withdraw from the game after aggravating an injury during the warm-up.
After the match, Wenger seemed both confused and concerned by Walcott’s problem. He told the BBC:
We hope we haven't lost Walcott for a long time. He has a muscular abdominal problem but I don't know how serious it is.
Is it a question of days? I hope so. He had a little problem before the Marseille game and it became a bit worse.
It is a bit mysterious because we don't really know what it is.
For Walcott, the timing could not be worse. After struggling to open his account this season, he finally hit the net with a perfectly-executed volley against Marseille. Just as he has achieved goalscoring form, injury has tugged him back.
The timing is a concern for Wenger too. Although Arsenal have a relatively low-key Capital One Cup tie with West Brom in mid-week, they then embark on a series of very tricky fixtures. In the space of three days, Arsenal must travel to in-form Swansea before hosting Serie A leaders Napoli.
Walcott’s injury also coincides with the absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski, who would both be in line to replace him as a wide attacker. With Santi Cazorla also on the sidelines, Wenger may be forced to turn to the youthful pair of Serge Gnabry and Ryo Miyaichi.
Both players were involved against Stoke. Gnabry started the game and showed impressive technical ability. At U-21 level, Gnabry is renowned as a fearless dribbler. His first-touch is outstanding, and his stocky body-shape and turn of pace allow him to spin quickly away from defenders.
However, against Stoke there was a timidity to his play: after beating the first man, he would generally look to lay the ball off to a more senior colleague. It will take the German youth international time to display the confidence and charisma he regularly demonstrates at youth level.
Miyaichi was introduced as Gnabry’s second-half substitute. After loan spells with Bolton and Wigan, the Japanese international has more Premier League experienced than Gnabry. However, he too looked worryingly raw. The defensive side of his game plainly needs work: on more than one occasion he allowed the full-back to run beyond him un-tracked, leaving Bacary Sagna exposed behind him.
The trio of Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil had begun to show an impressive understanding against Sunderland and Marseille. Ozil’s intelligent through-balls and Giroud’s neat flick-ons provide an ideal supply-line for Walcott’s lightning-quick off-the-ball sprints.
Wenger will hope he can restore Walcott and harness the interplay of that triumvirate sooner rather than later.
Arsenal are about to face tests which may prove too much too soon for their fledgling reserves.