On the back of a productive Christmas period, Arsenal now head into their most important stretch of the season.
This time, they are not being tested on their ability to knock off the Premier League’s biggest teams. Rather, the Gunners face their easiest stretch in quite a while as they attempt to solidify their lead at the top of the table.
With victories in their next five matches, all of which are eminently winnable, Arsenal will place themselves firmly in pole position for the all-important run-in.
This crucial stretch begins with a home match against Cardiff City, whose 18 points keep them just two points clear of the relegation zone.
Ordinarily, Arsenal fans would expect such a fixture to be a relatively humdrum piece of business against a lesser team that has only effort on its side. But a substantial injury crisis has hit the Gunners during their last couple of matches and several key players will be out for this game and beyond.
There are doubts about the fitness of Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Thomas Vermaelen, but James McNicholas of Gunnerblog (and Bleacher Report) said on Twitter that the trio trained ahead of the match.
That, at least, will give Arsene Wenger versatile and high-caliber options from which to choose in the absence of other key figures.
Those include Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, who both missed Arsenal's last game. Speaking with Arsenal.com, Wenger confirmed that the former is undergoing an evaluation and the latter will definitely be out for three weeks.
Nacho Monreal might also not be ready in time because of the illness that took him out of contention against Newcastle.
Meanwhile, there is some doubt about Olivier Giroud's fitness after he picked up a knock last weekend.
According to The Independent's Jim van Wijk, Wenger said Giroud is confident about his own ability to return for the Cardiff game, but the medical staff appear to have their doubts. If there is a legitimate dispute, Wenger will almost certainly side with the medics, as he cannot afford to risk his only credible striking threat.
Therefore, we can expect Arsenal to line up as follows:
It is certainly not the best lineup the Gunners have put on the pitch all season, but it should be able to get the job done at home against a decidedly inferior opponent.
The back line will be inflexible, the midfield will be tired from their strenuous exertions against Newcastle and Nicklas Bendtner will be leading the attacking line.
Arsenal are lucky that this injury crisis has hit during one of their most forgiving periods of the season.
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