Wenger’s pursuit of a fourth Premier League title was buffeted by the Spurs unbeaten wave last weekend. Hardly a wave of tidal proportions but a difficult obstacle overcome, or at least disaster averted, as Wenger guided the Arsenal ship to calmer seas for the time being.
The pursuit of a fourth title, so long after his last taste of success, has almost taken on Captain Ahab proportions. Whilst the result doesn’t leave us all at sea, it does raise fears of the annual November collapse. To perpetuate those fears further, news has filtered back from Chile and Spain that both Sanchez and Bellerin have suffered injuries.
Whilst it is unclear how severe Sanchez’s injury is, Bellerin looks like he will be out for a considerable length of time - meaning that he will miss the tie against Manchester United, the return leg of PSG and a tricky home fixture against Southampton. The odds were already against us winning all those fixtures, and now with this latest injury, things don’t look like they’ll improve anytime soon. Even with the number of £30 free bet promotions you probably wouldn’t want to back our current Premiership form. This only goes to show that both players are integral to how we play. Bellerin is a constant outlet on our right hand flank and has made himself integral to both our defensive and attacking set-up. His pace allows him to compensate for Theo’s tendency to wander in-field and his technique is outstanding for a right back. Jenkinson is an able deputy but one who will struggle to contribute in the same manner as Bellerin.
Sanchez’s injury is far more problematic. Injuries to Sanchez are always challenging given his sheer desire and willingness to play. It is interesting that Shaw and Smalling have both spoken out about their injuries - going against their manager’s wishes by confirming injuries rather than attempting to play through them. Logic and safety should dictate when a player is fit to play but with Sanchez there is a suspicion that sheer boredom and the desire to play can often drive the Chilean to persuade the medical staff that he is fit regardless.
Wenger faces a real quandary with the injury of Sanchez. For the last few weeks, the marauding centre forward has created space and gaps for the rejuvenated Özil to take advantage of. The German has excelled in his role this season as he has added goals to his game. With Sanchez now ruled out, it looks like Arsenal will revert to Giroud as the centre forward flag bearer. To add to these concerns, it seems the form of Alex Iwobi has severely dipped. His contribution in recent weeks has diminished and with that he seems to be forcing his involvement in games far too often – to the detriment of our build up play.
Without Sanchez and with Iwobi struggling in his current capacity, Arsene may choose to adapt his preferred starting eleven and include the hot and cold Oxlade Chamberlain in place of the young Nigerian. Despite the England manager being a firm admirer of Oxlade Chamberlain, the wide man has been left at home by Gareth Southgate. Recent ups and downs have probably cost him a place in this current England squad but the Ox’s capacity for the unpredictable is akin to Sanchez’s explosiveness. Both players, to their credit boast an ability to beat a man. They are capable of shooting from distance (although a record of 3 goals in 53 Premier League appearances in the last three seasons leaves much to be desired). They also are willing to work hard in forward positions to regain possession. However, their willingness to go rogue from Wenger’s meticulous build up play means it is rare that both start in the same eleven. Their proclivity for loose passes must seem an insult to Özil et al at times but their directness is essential to generate space and time for the more creative and clinical players.
The introduction of Giroud – a target man with a strong aerial presence could prove the perfect foil for the Ox, allowing him to cut inside and use the HFB as a wall for one-twos or to beat the fullback and attempt to seek out a cross similar to the one that opened the scoring against Sunderland. Hopefully, the inclusion of Giroud will also enable Walcott to continue his fine form for the season. He has linked well with the Frenchman in the past; his presence inside the box often draws defenders and creates a valley of space between the left sided centre back and the full back – an area that Walcott loves to occupy.
It is undoubtedly a blow to be missing two of our most influential players, especially two players whose unique abilities alter the way we play. But injuries are part and parcel of football and if Arsenal are to stand any chance of obtaining the Premier League title, then dealing with these setbacks will be paramount.
Til next time,