Arsenal lost 2-1 to West Brom, giving away a lucky goal on a harsh call for a set play, missing a penalty, giving up an own goal, and whiffing on big chances wide open in the box. As Wenger put it, it was a nightmare, and yet, all of that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was losing Coquelin to a knee injury which might sideline him for the rest of the season and losing his replacement Mikel Arteta to a calf injury. On top of all the other injuries that Arsenal have suffered this season, the Gunners are left looking like a Napoleonic War painting, with bandaged and dead strewn all about while the Hussars break through our once world famous lines.
Arsenal’s injury situation is frustrating. The Gunners are now missing Coquelin, Arteta, Wilshere, Welbeck, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, and Tomas Rosicky which is a huge blow to any club but given yesterday’s performance, especially hurtful to the Gunners and their title chances.
Arsenal are two points off the top of the table and the underlying stats all suggest that Wenger’s boys are the only other legitimate title contenders, next to Man City. But injuries to key players like Coquelin won’t show up in lagging indicators like expected goals for a least a month, maybe even two. So, while all signs are still pointing to Arsenal being title contenders right now, it’s ok to feel like that might not be the case come January.
As soon as Coquelin made the substitution motion, spinning his fingers like the ever spinning wheel of Arsenal’s injury cycle, fans took to twitter to bemoan Arsene Wenger’s summer transfer policy. Well, the lack of transfers really.
The debate about Arsenal’s lack of depth revolves around the well founded argument that Arsene Wenger should have known that he has a squad full of players who are going to miss 20+ matches a season. Given Arsenal’s injury record, goes the argument, Wenger should have stocked up on players in the midfield positions and given Arsenal a real chance at the title.
From that fact the fans tend to divide into two camps: those who felt that the squad was already deep enough, and those who wanted more depth, specifically, in the forward and center mid areas. The argument against depth tends to ask “how are you going to find someone good enough to be a starter but willing to be a backup” and the argument for more depth tends to be seriously ruthless and just say that players like Arteta should be cut.
I asked on twitter if they were willing to get rid of the players who were serially injured — Walcott, Wilshere, Welbeck, Ramsey, and Ox — and the response was “why not?”
The reason I asked is because I think this discussion about depth and the injury record has an elephant in the room: the players who are most hit by injury are all fan favorites, and most of them are British.
This is why people keep saying that they want the very unrealistic “adequate backup”. That they want players who are as good as, say, Ramsey, but who are happy playing from the bench and who will happily go back to the bench when Ramsey is ready to play again. The reason they want that is because they don’t want to suggest the realistic solution, which is to buy players who are better than the Ramsey’s and relegate the Ramsey’s to the bench instead.
That’s the quandary that Arsenal fans are in. The players who are most often injured are the British players. They are the players that the young kids in Islington look up to. Do you really just shelve Jack Wilshere for a better center mid? We don’t have that debate because it’s too real.
Another good example is Coquelin. Many folks wanted a backup for Coquelin and players like Kondogbia are typically mooted to be that guy. But Kondogbia is not going to be Coquelin’s backup. He’s the starting defensive midfielder for Inter Milan and France. He’s better than Coquelin.
I’m as sentimental as anyone and I love Ramsey, Wilshere, Welbeck, Ox, and Walcott but I’m also realistic. If Wenger had bought Paul Pogba (a Ramsey replacement) or Morgan Schneiderlin (a Coquelin replacement) I don’t know if I would be too upset. I’d probably feel like many people do in those situations “if Ramsey is good enough and works hard enough, he’ll get into the team, the competition for places is healthy, and will produce the best team.”
But Wenger didn’t buy Pogba, or anyone for that matter, and so talking about transfers on the 22nd of November is peak pointless. We’ve been over all these arguments about if the player wants to come, if he’s available, if Arsenal can afford him, and we all know that on top of all those factors Wenger is a loyalist. He is going to stick with the players he’s got over bringing in a bunch of new faces, especially after his team won back to back FA Cups.
The cynical among us will predict out that all these players will probably be back in January, that Arsenal will win a bunch of matches and look like title contenders again, Wenger won’t buy anyone, and the injuries will start mounting up again after the transfer window closes. I can already hear the comments “I’m not cynical, I’m realistic!” But you are cynical, there are no Paul Pogba’s on the market in January. If we are buying a center mid in January, Arsenal are in real trouble.
The realists are worried about Sanchez, Özil, and Cazorla. Sanchez is some kind of miracle. I don’t know what his parents fed him growing up but that man’s body must be made of steel, I don’t think even jet fuel could melt him. The minutes he’s played for club and country combined with the way he plays the game, he should be out injured all the time. Somehow he’s not only not injured but flew back from a draining international break on Thursday and put in an amazing performance against West Brom on Saturday. If only his teammates had been up to his level, that match would have been a cakewalk.
Özil, on the other hand, has been out injured all the time but he’s playing his very best football at the moment. Losing him would certainly mean Arsenal drop out of the title race. And Cazorla is actually starting to show signs of mental and physical fatigue. His last two matches were poor by his own very high standard. But it looks like he can’t be rotated, in fact none of them can, yet another problem caused by Arsenal’s injury record.
All this talk of injuries and transfers is depressing, but I think it needs to be done. Get it out of your system. Then we can switch the debate to “who should play in central midfield while all these others are injured?”