There is a saying in Russian which goes like this “Осталось только день простоять и ночь продержаться”. In English it will read roughly “You must hold out for a day and a night only”. I don’t know if there’s an equivalent in English, for two reasons:
- I was never really good at proverbs and use them with extreme caution
- It’s not so much a proverb, as a general wisdom, a product of a collective mind
In case you are wondering what the saying means, I’ll explain: it is applicable to a hard, but finite, situation. So when, for example, you return home on Thursday evening, exhausted after a long working week, you know that this time next evening you’ll be a free man. In order to remind you of that, to cheer you up, someone might say this “you must only hold out for another day and a night” (though the order is reversed, in this case). Which basically means “it’s tough going right now, but it won’t be this way forever”.
I think the saying is very much in harmony with the current injury situation at Arsenal. Things look bleak right now, but they should improve considerably after the break. Hence why I brought the whole thing up.
Team news update
What exactly is the situation? The usual trio aside (though even their return is getting closer), we have Ospina, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott and Oxlade out. Eight seniors in total. Here is the latest on all of them:
“We have two kind of injuries – the injuries who will be coming back after Christmas, which is Rosicky, Wilshere and Welbeck. [Then] we have the short-term injuries. Most of them like Arteta, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain should be back after the international break.”
And on Ox and Theo:
“Both are out for Saturday’s game and until at least after the international break so they are out as well for England. I believe the quickest back will be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott might be a fraction longer.”
I don’t like this “a fraction longer” bit and I keep wondering whether this particular injury was avoidable. It is what it is, however, not much we can do about it.
The litany of injuries creates another problem: we don’t have a reliable right-winger at the moment. Ramsey, Ox and Welbeck, followed by Theo and Wilshere were our options and, amazingly, all of them are injured at the same time. Where does it leave us?
According to Wenger, he’ll be mulling over two options: Joel Campbell and Alex Iwobi:
“Campbell and Alex Iwobi (are my options). Santi can play there as well but he has become very important centrally. The problem sometimes is that you can destroy two departments if you move one player out. We control the ball better with Santi in the middle.”
This passage gives us insight not only into manager’s thinking regarding the right wing solutions, but also his approach to the problem as a whole. Before Arsene said it, there were suggestions he could use Gibbs as a left winger and shift Alexis to the right flank, or move Bellerin further up to accommodate Debuchy. Now I think both scenarios are off the cards.
Truth be told, I don’t like either scenario anyway, mostly because Gibbs and Debuchy have been utter crap this season. I don’t know why, I think they are much better players than their recent performances suggest, but I don’t think a crucial away game against Swansea is a good playground for experiments. Gibbs and Debuchy have been skinned by lesser opponents than Ayew and Montero respectively (Monk’s preferred wingers).
I would probably have suggested using Chambers at right-back with Bellerin essentially becoming a winger. This approach will allow us to be defensively secure, while both Bellerin and Chambers have the requisite experience at their respective (potential) roles. However, this plan has two downsides:
- Unsettling a stable back four
As we remember all too well, Montero gave Chambers a torrid time last November, so I don’t know whether it’s such a good idea to pin them against one another. If Bellerin doesn’t get back in time to help out Chambers, Lord knows what might happen.
Taking all this into account, Campbell is probably our best option. He is a like-for-like, he is surprisingly good at defending and his introduction causes minimal disruption to the established order. The downside? Joel doesn’t look very good at attacking, a requirement pretty essential for an inverted winger.
Problem is, there is no ideal scenario. When your 6 options or so for one position are all out simultaneously, you have to make do with what you have. And hey, what gives that Joel won’t improve alongside the likes of Ozil and Alexis?
I’m pretty sure this is Joel’s last chance with us, however. If Ramsey and Ox return after the break (like they should), Campbell will once again be consigned to the bench. Unless he shows signs of improvement, that is. So he has everything to fight for on Saturday. Here’s hoping he will show some steel vs the Swans.
Lighten up, fellas
Despite the slew of injuries, there is one very obvious and very heartwarming positive: our starting XI essentially remains intact. The same guys who started the majority of games from March onwards are available, with two exceptions: Ramsey and Walcott (the latter played less than Giroud overall, but seems to have won the starting spot lately).
Yes, we don’t know how our XI would have looked with everyone available. Maybe Wilshere would have been a starter, or Welbeck, but the reality is such, that in over 5 months of football our team included neither on a regular basis. So the right wing position is our only real bother going into the game.
One could make a case Walcott started most games this season, but again we are definitely more used, maybe even better suited, to Giroud up top. He has been our main striker for the last three seasons.
And you know what? It’s important. Yes, our bench will consist of several defenders, Matt Macey, Alex Iwobi and a couple of my chums visiting London, but so what? We all know Wenger is at his best at getting results when he has a settled team (Tim Stillman examines this phenomenon in-depth here). He is even reluctant to make substitutions in-game if his initial plan works.
So yes, we are light on numbers overall, we don’t exactly have a right winger everyone likes and our bench may be held with Blu-Tack at the moment, but all of this has little or no impact on the starting XI and, therefore, on our ability to win games. At the end of the day, while squad depth is important and substitutions can have the desired impact, it’s the guys who play from the off that get most of the work done.
This is a crucial game. Maybe the most important up to now. Maybe even season-defining.
Why? It will set the tone for the upcoming week. It can also show we can win games despite having multiple injuries. Finally, a win will take us one step closer to getting some of our walking wounded back.
I liked a thought expressed on Twitter the other day: “If Arsenal win the next two games in the Prem before their players recover, they will win the title”.
Now we only have to hold out for day and a night