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Are Injuries to Blame for Arsenal's Title Blowout?

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 Stadium on January 4, 2014 in London, England.  The injury sustained has led England and Arsenal forward Walcott to be ruled out for six months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury which will see him miss out on the 2014 World Cup.(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images
James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2014

The return of Aaron Ramsey to the Arsenal squad for the match against Everton was a painful reminder of what might have been. 

In the first half of the season, Ramsey’s form was instrumental in leading Arsenal to the top of the Premier League. However, an absence of three months hit the Gunners hard at the business end of their campaign. Had he remained fit, Arsenal might still be in the title race.

It’s not just Ramsey whose absence has hit Arsenal hard. Arsene Wenger has also had to cope without Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcottall at the same time. That’s a veritable wealth of attacking talent to manage without. Olivier Giroud has been criticised for failing to fire Arsenal to the title, but with the contribution of Walcott and Ramsey alongside him, his tally would look far more respectable.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04:  The injured Theo Walcott of Arsenal makes a 2-0 gesture to the Tottenham fans as he is stretchered off the pitch during the Budweiser FA Cup third round match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on Janu
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Arsenal haven’t foregrounded the injuries as an excuse, but they’ve undoubtedly have a massive impact. On February 7, Arsenal led the Premier League. However, since then their title charge steadily ground to a halt. In too many big games, the Gunners have lacked the class needed to beat top-drawer opposition. A moment of magic from Ozil or a blistering run from Walcott might have made the difference. 

At one end of the pitch, Arsenal have been relatively fortunate with injuries. Unusually for an Arsene Wenger team, the basis of their title challenge has been a consistent and functional defence. Throughout the season, Arsenal have not lost any member of their back five for a sustained period. Had the Gunners lost one of Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny for a prolonged spell, their title hopes could have dissipated far earlier in the season.  

However, it’s in the attacking third where they’ve suffered most. As the season has worn on, a tiring Giroud has badly lacked support. 

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal reacts s he looks to Olivier Giroud of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Arsenal at St Mary's Stadium on January 28, 2014 in Southampton, England.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Squad depth is certainly an issue. Arsenal knew about the injuries to Walcott and Ramsey during the transfer window, and did not bring in top-class replacements. That appears to have been a significant mistake. 

Explaining the injuries themselves is difficult. Arsenal suffer so regularly that fans are beginning to ask whether this is down to more than mere bad luck.

Arsene Wenger has promised an extensive internal review, but that has yet to yield any conclusive results. Speaking to The Guardian, he proposed a personal theory that players may be suffering from taking certain supplements without permission: 

Some of them [muscle injuries] are down to the medication that the players take that you don't even know about. Then you realise afterwards that they took this medication but that's not prudent. 

If you lose your hair and you've taken something to make your hair grow, it might not be good, especially for the rest of your body. Medication always pushes a part of your body and is sometimes detrimental to other parts of your body.

Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen has a more conservative explanation. He told The Independent:

It is a general problem in football, if you do too much too soon, in the first few weeks of preseason, you develop shorter-term fitness. If you do the same amount of fitness work spread over six weeks, you develop longer-term fitness that will last for 10 months.

Whatever the problem, Wenger and his team must get to the bottom of it this summer. Injuries have destroyed Arsenal’s season too many times. They can’t be allowed to do so again.

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.

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