Injuries Afford Arsene Wenger Some Leeway in Arsenal's Faltering Season

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2014

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - MARCH 10:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks on during the Arsenal training session at London Colney on March 10, 2014 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

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’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.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal holds off Kevin Nolan of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at Boleyn Ground on December 26, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/G
Ian Walton/Getty Images

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.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04:   (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission of image #460558025 with an alternate crop) Theo Walcott of Arsenal lies injured on the pitch during the Budweiser FA Cup third round match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Sta
Clive Rose/Getty Images

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 Reports lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.


    Inter in Talks for Sturridge as Roma Consider Move

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Inter in Talks for Sturridge as Roma Consider Move

    via Gianlucadimarzio

    Watford Blame Everton as They Sack Silva

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Watford Blame Everton as They Sack Silva

    BBC Sport
    via BBC Sport

    Chelsea Ready to Bid £44M for Roma Duo

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Chelsea Ready to Bid £44M for Roma Duo

    Fabrizio Romano
    via the Guardian