Arsenal’s season appears to be undergoing its customary implosion. The causes are depressingly familiar for Arsenal fans: A weak-mindedness against the big teams, some disastrous defending and a failure to sufficiently strengthen the squad during multiple transfer windows.
However, there is one factor that has not been foregrounded in the discussion of Arsenal’s recent slump: injuries.
It’s a plague that seems to afflict Arsenal year on year. However, in the second half of this season, it has been particularly virulent. At the present time, Arsenal sit on top of Physioroom.com’s Premier League injury table. They currently have seven men on the sidelines.
There is an alarming pattern to the injuries: Many of them are in the vital central-midfield area of the pitch. Currently, Arsenal are without Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil. When fit, all four would certainly feature in Arsene Wenger’s matchday plans.
Ramsey’s absence has been particularly costly. It seems like a long time ago now, but in the first half of the season, he was arguably the Premier League’s outstanding player. The thigh injury he picked up in December has ruled him out for the most crucial period of Arsenal’s season.
With his goals and energy from midfield, it might have been a different story.
Initially, Arsenal coped well with the loss of Ramsey. Wilshere stepped into the void and looked as if he could be a capable understudy. However, his form and fitness have both since disappeared. To be without both players at the same time is particularly problematic.
The other big loss has been that of Theo Walcott. If there was one part of the pitch in which Arsenal could ill-afford to lose players, it was in the attacking third.
Having failed to recruit a new striker in either the summer or in January, Arsenal have been dangerously reliant on Olivier Giroud all season long. There’s a cruel irony about the fact that the cruciate ligament injury that ruled Walcott out for the season came in the very match in which he showed he could provide a viable alternative to Giroud.
Walcott was handed a start at centre-forward in the FA Cup third-round clash with Spurs, and he responded with an outstanding display. He’s long been clear about his ambition to be regarded as a central striker, and in this game he truly walked the walk. However, it was fated to be his last appearance of 2013/14.
Injuries are a regular affliction at Arsenal. Fitness coach Raymond Verheijen recently told the Mirror that it’s a consequence of poor training methods:
An injury could be bad luck but that is the exception to the rule. In contact sports occasionally there is an unlucky injury but most injuries are a result of overloading the body... doing the wrong workload at the wrong time or in the wrong sequence," he explained.
Clearly something is going wrong. If you look at the law of the big numbers, something in the last ten years is going wrong. It’s clearly incompetence but it’s unconscious incompetence. The only way you can improve is if it’s conscious incompetence, so you’re aware of it.
Whatever the cause, it’s certain that injuries have been a huge factor in the recent downturn in Arsenal’s form.
Were the likes of Walcott and Ramsey fit and available, one suspects the Gunners might yet be in the title race.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.