Well, that didn’t quite work out as expected, did it? More dropped points against opposition we shouldn’t be dropping points against, 3 new injuries to vital players and a no-wins November. I won’t even bother counting how many points Arsenal averaged this November, despite less than hectic schedule and more than manageable opponents.
Simply put, yesterday’s disaster could only have been made worse had we actually lost the game and believe me, we were very close to doing just that. Were it not for the brilliant Petr Cech, we would have drawn blank against the Canaries.
The starting XI sprung no surprises, with Flamini keeping his place alongside Cazorla and Ramsey being preferred to Campbell on the right. It was, on paper, a very strong squad, more than capable of running out comfortable winners. Yet we didn’t.
We looked leggy right from the off, devoid of ideas, unable to spark ourselves into life. In fact, our goal came quite unexpectedly and was basically a gift from John Ruddy. The keeper cleared the ball in the most unconvincing manner possible, Alexis robbed the defender, sliced open Norwich’s defense with one pass to Ozil and the German dinked the ball over the keeper to make it 1-0.
That was when we should have extended our lead, yet we continued passing the ball at the back. Alarm bells set off when Hoolahan made Cech work hard with a long shot, but the Gunners didn’t heed the warning.
And so it came as no surprise when two minutes later Grabban equalised. What drove me up a wall was the manner in which he did it: by controlling a simple pass inside our box (in-between our centre-backs!) and slotting the ball past Cech.
Norwich actually came close to going into the break in front, but, mercifully, Hoolahan fired over from an absolute point-blank-range position.
If we looked bad enough in the first half, then the second set an all-time low: despite dominating possession again, Arsenal only took 5 shots, 3 were blocked and the other two were off target. Norwich, meanwhile, had at least two golden opportunities to go in front and only a combination of luck and mad reflexes from Cech saved us a point.
We sustained 4: a calf injury to Gibbs before the game and hip, knee and hamstring injuries to Koscielny, Cazorla and Alexis respectively. We lost three crucial players inside one game, having only just lost Coquelin. Our injury count reached double figures. Our season is on crash course already because we have so many injured players.
There’s a silver lining, though: Arsene said after the game Kos and Cazorla can make the Sunderland game, while Walcott has a chance to recover before the Olympiacos showdown. Arteta also shouldn’t be too far away, while Sanchez and Wilshere can play vs City on the 21st.
But it’s a very positive scenario from yours truly. I fear the situation may be worse than this. Which begs the question: why is it happening to Arsenal and what should be done about it?
The way I see it, there can be three basic reasons to our ongoing injury woes: luck, wrong preparation/training methods/rotation and predisposition. Let’s look at all these in detail.
Or lack of thereof? We currently have at least three walking wounded who sustained their respective injuries as a result of contact: Wilshere, Coquelin and Cazorla. I’ll get to Wilshere a bit later, because, while his injury is a result of an unlucky collision with Gabriel, Jack isn’t exactly the toughest player on Earth.
Coquelin and Cazorla are accidents, these you can’t really account for. Coquelin went into a rash challenge, Cazorla had his leg smashed at Norwich. Don’t think either injury could have been avoided.
While some like to paint a picture of archaic “dinosaur” Wenger with his ancient training methods, I doubt highly there’s something inherently wrong with these. Wenger is a trailblazer in many respects, I don’t think he stands still while others evolve. I can’t remember whether there was an elaborate piece on his training methods, but I do know that, not long ago, people blamed Arsene for being tactically naive and unable to adapt to opponents, only for Cazorla to blast these rumours into space.
That’s where most of the work seemed to be done in the last year or so. We brought in Shad Forsythe last summer and hired a whole bunch of conditioning coaches this. Either they are all complete morons unable to do their job properly (a possibility still, look at the number of muscle injuries we have. Currently 4) or we move to point 3 of point 2.
‘Tickets to any matches in Europe this Christmas?’
That can well be the issue. All of Koscielny, Cazorla, Coquelin, Alexis played a lot of football this year. However, for various reasons, Arsene couldn’t/didn’t drop any of them to give them a breather.
Cazorla and Coquelin formed an unlikely, but very effective pivot at the base of our midfield. On top of that, we don’t really have an alternative to Coquelin, while Cazorla’s best potential stand-in (Wilshere) has been injured most the time. Ramsey (the next best thing) either didn’t seem to work out as well in the couple of games he played alongside Coq, or was deemed too important a cog on the right.
Koscielny’s injury, meanwhile, can more or less be dubbed a contact one, however, it also has to be said defenders aren’t generally at the same level of exhaustion as midfielders/strikers, and as such don’t require to be rotated constantly. It can even be detrimental if they do. Just look at how bad our back four fared from August till December last year!
Ultimately, Wenger, maybe more so than others managers, rely on cohesion too much. He finds a perfect system and plays it into the ground. Changing even one component carries the risk of putting the entire fragile set-up in jeopardy. And ultimately, Alexis fell prey to this philosophy. He was deemed too important to be given a rest. The result? The Chilean pulled his hamstring.
Our inability to rotate stems not only from Wenger’s perseverance with the same system, but also because we have a lot of injured players at any given time. It’s a vicious circle. We play the same guys till they get injured as we have no one else. Then the situation repeats itself, only with the other half of the squad.
Last, but not least of the possible explanations. We just have a bunch of extremely fragile footballers on our hands. Ones we can’t rely upon for the entire season. Just look at this list. Seriously, have a look. There are a lot of familiar names on it (credit to arsenalreport.com, amazing site).
Theo Walcott, who is yet to return, is second only to Abou Diaby, in days lost lost to injury since January 2013. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere aren’t far away. Rosicky and Arteta are on this list. Alarmingly, Danny Welbeck is there too, despite only joining last summer. Finally, even Aaron Ramsey made top 10.
Notice a trend, one which can be tracked even now? Almost all of our injured are Englishmen. Diaby was a professional hospital patient, Gnabry didn’t play a lot, so we didn’t feel it, while Sanogo was never really relied upon. Finally, Arteta and Rosicky are in their 30s, neither are likely to be at the Club next season.
It’s not the case with our English core, though. Unlike all of the above, we count on them. They are important to our success. We really, really need them.
But they are just not there most of the time. They can’t be called reliable, none of them, even Ramsey. And that begs a very simple, very harsh and very unlikely to come from Wenger, solution: sell them.
“What?!” I hear you say. “Have you gone off your boiler? Sell Jack, Aaron, Theo?” Now, calm down a bit. I’m not saying sell them in January. I love all these guys just as much as you do. I want them to succeed just as much as you do.
What I think needs to be done is give them till the end of the season, see how they fare. Give them a run, see if they can stay for even half a season. And then make a decision in the summer. Even if is a harsh one.
Bottom line is this: we wouldn’t have found ourselves in such a mess right now with Wilshere, Welbeck and Rosicky fit. Even without the other 7 we would have coped. Jack would ha slotted in for Cazorla, Rosicky would be at hand to ease Oxlade into action/ give Ozil an occasional breather. Welbeck could have played on the left to rest Sanchez. Or centrally to rest Theo/Giroud. Having these 3 available from the off would have probably seen us avoid a couple of our current injuries, maybe most of them.
Despite dropping points again, we remain within touching distance of the top. Much more worrying are the injuries which can cause us to drop further points, but I’m praying we will be cut a bit of break with returns for Kos, Cazorla, Arteta, Theo and Sanchez within the next 3 weeks. Before we play City that is. Fingers crossed we’ll manage until then.