Stretched Arsenal Squad Could Face Burnout in EPL Title Race

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 18, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01:  Olivier Giroud of Arsenal reacts to a missed opportunity the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 01, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The biggest threat to Arsenal's chances of capturing this season's English Premier League title is their depleted squad experiencing burnout.

The Gunners could face burnout thanks to a lengthy injury list that has stretched them to the breaking point at key positions. This is a problem brought into even sharper focus by the rigors of an international break.

Manager Arsene Wenger was quick to point out that the current international fixtures are far from welcome for his tired team, via

The international break is not welcome because when you lose a game like that you want to play straight away again.

We have some players who go to play massive games, under massive pressure and will not come back after the break refreshed - they come back maybe exhausted because France plays against Ukraine - we have a few French players.

Wenger was speaking in the days following Arsenal's last league game, a 1-0 away defeat to Manchester United. That was a contest in which several of Wenger's charges played as though they were in need of a good rest.

In certain cases the need for such a breather is obvious and nowhere more so than up front. That is where lone striker Olivier Giroud has valiantly tried to lead the line since the start of last season.

If you need evidence of how fatigue is stifling Arsenal's leading man, consider the dip in Giroud's form. He began the season netting five goals in six games.

An already tiring Olivier Giroud will have played in two games for France during the international break.
An already tiring Olivier Giroud will have played in two games for France during the international break.Julian Finney/Getty Images

But Giroud has scored just three times since then. He has appeared noticeably sluggish in recent matches, particularly at Old Trafford.

That is something that has been spotted by his teammates, as centre-back Laurent Koscielny pointed out an interview with The Sun's Andrew Dillon, cited by

It's true that he's not scoring but he is setting them up, like he did against Dortmund, Koscielny told The Sun. But he's also playing game after game and hasn't had a rest, so maybe he's feeling a bit of fatigue.

He's very important for us - strong and always answers the call on the pitch. If you look at the games, he weighs enormously on the opposition's defence. All the balls he wins are in the air with his back to goal. He works very hard up front.

A worn out Giroud is the primary focus for concern among many fans and pundits, and that makes sense. As Koscielny stated, the former Montpellier star is playing a key role in how the Gunners build their attacks.

Take Giroud away and a team filled with skilled but diminutive playmakers would lose the essential physical power at the heart of its attack.

But Wenger currently has little choice except to continue running Giroud into the ground. Injuries to Yaya Sanogo, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott have determined that reality.

Arsenal need this trio to make a speedy return after this international break. Neither Walcott or Podolski would offer the same strengths as Giroud as the focal point of Arsenal's forward line.

But they would help ease the burden on the Frenchman to link play and score goals every week. That is something Giroud is not proficient enough to do even at peak fitness.

Arsenal desperately need Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski healthy.
Arsenal desperately need Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski healthy.Masashi Hara/Getty Images

Sanogo, while still very raw, would at least give Wenger a deputy for Giroud possessing greater pace and enthusiasm than Nicklas Bendtner.

The hapless Dane is after all only still on the books because of how badly Arsenal's ranks have been hit by injuries. But that decimation goes further than just the striker position.

It also threatens to blight the midfield ranks, the undisputed strength of this team. Long-term injuries for Abou Diaby and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could prove to be especially troubling.

The pair possesses the physical strength to be assets as cover in defensive midfield areas. Arsenal are currently hugely reliant on veterans Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in this vital position.

When they have turned to others, as they did against Chelsea in their 2-0 Capital One Cup defeat, the Gunners have suffered.

That is because the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere don't currently boast the physicality, positional sense and tactical awareness to thrive in deeper roles.

Wenger may ultimately see Wilshere as an option there, but his game is not well-rounded enough yet, and his fitness levels are certainly not up to scratch.

Jack Wilshere faces a constant struggle to stay fit.
Jack Wilshere faces a constant struggle to stay fit.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Wilshere's battle to stay consistently healthy following repeated problems with his ankles has become an all too familiar storyline. Questions about his fitness were again raised following his participation in England's recent 2-0 defeat to Chile.

Daily Mirror journalist Oliver Holt raised those questions during an appearance on Sky Sports:

"I am a massive fan of Wilshere and think he has the potential to be a really important player for England, especially when he plays further forward - but I don't think he is fully fit," said Holt.

It is easy to forget how long he was out for and how bad his injury was and I think it will be a long process for him to fight his way back.

It looks to me - though I may be totally wrong - that he is playing with a bit of pain and as he builds his way back he is going to be below what we thought.

Wilshere's woes make the recent news about a setback for Chamberlain more difficult to bear. The ex-Southampton prodigy is now expected to be out until after the New Year, according to The Sunday People's Dave Kidd.

Chamberlain is not yet a regular starter, but he is versatile and talented enough to cover any of the team's three central midfield berths and even thrive on the flanks.

But Arsenal can still survive absences in midfield, thanks to the emergence of youngsters like Serge Gnabry. However, they are also reliant on brittle veterans like Tomas Rosicky for vital cover.

Things are not so well-stocked at the heart of Arsenal's defence. Like the striker position, Wenger risks overusing invaluable members of his team due to a lack of options.

Simply put, at least one of central defenders Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker is needed for every game. That is the necessity when there is only Thomas Vermaelen as recognized cover.

Arsenal have used one of Laurent Koscielny or Per Mertesacker in every game this season.
Arsenal have used one of Laurent Koscielny or Per Mertesacker in every game this season.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Wenger has put Bacary Sagna into the middle on occasion but must guard against wearing out his best full-back.

While the need for another striker is obvious come the January transfer window, it is matched by the importance of finding another credible centre-back.

With the games mounting in both numbers and importance, Arsenal need to be as close to full strength as possible. The Gunners face six key EPL games before Christmas.

They entertain Southampton, Hull City, Everton and title rivals Chelsea, with daunting away trips to Cardiff City and Manchester City also on the slate.

Mixed in among those games are two vital UEFA Champions League clashes against Marseille and Napoli. They will determine whether the Gunners progress in a competition Wenger is desperate to finally win.

Think how much easier Arsenal could negotiate that packed schedule if they had the options in attack Manchester United possess. The Red Devils can call on the prolific Javier Hernandez and rest either Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie.

The Gunners lack the strength in reserve their main title rivals possess.
The Gunners lack the strength in reserve their main title rivals possess.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

For all of Chelsea's so-called woes up front, manager Jose Mourinho can still utilize Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o or Demba Ba in his search for goals. 

Manchester City can rely on Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and even Edin Dzeko. The Citizens and Chelsea are also as well-stocked as Arsenal in midfield.

To stay ahead of his most serious rivals, Wenger needs his ailing players back and also needs greater options at both the tip and core of his team.

Without them, Arsenal face burning out in a highly competitive title race.

That is why Wenger will be keeping a nervous eye on this week's internationals. He lost Walcott and Santi Cazorla during the last break.

Arsenal can scarcely afford to lose anybody this time if they are going to stay in pole position in this season's title race.


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