Can Arsenal overcome their latest injury crisis?
By Daniel Rubens
For whatever reason, it seems as though Arsenal are hit by a major injury bug every season. That crisis has officially hit in North London. With the Gunners dealing with costly injuries to a number of key contributors, they’ll have to find a way to hang on in the Premier League title race over the next few months.
Can they do it, though? In recent seasons, important players missing significant time has ultimately been what has sunk Arsenal’s hopes. In a season in which the BPL is more open than ever, the Gunners were fancied by many to mount a sturdy challenge. Now, they must navigate through the coming weeks and months without vital pieces to their puzzle. It will be a monumental task for Arsene Wenger to overcome.
The latest to hit the shelf is Santi Cazorla, who played the second half of Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Norwich after hurting his knee and is now expected to miss at least the next three months. Alexis Sanchez and Laurent Koscielny also picked up injuries at Carrow Road, with Alexis expected to miss the better part of the next month, though Koscielny could possibly return for this weekend’s clash with Sunderland.
Those big names join a litany of others on the trainer’s table at the Emirates. Midfielder
Francis Coquelin, a key figure for the Gunners so far this season, will miss at least the next two months after suffering knee damage in a 2-1 loss at West Brom, and his replacement in that game, Mikel Arteta, also picked up a calf problem against the Baggies. Fellow midfielders Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere are recovering from leg injuries and haven’t played yet this season, while Aaron Ramsey returned this week after a month on the sidelines.
The problems don’t end there. Theo Walcott is out again with a calf strain, Danny Welbeck remains a ways away from a return in his recovery from a knee injury, and Kieran Gibbs also left the West Brom game, his first league start of the season, with a calf problem. Including the players who have missed time and since returned, the Gunners have seen 16 players go down since the beginning of the season.
After a summer in which Wenger’s only senior signing was a goalkeeper, Petr Cech, the question of whether Arsenal can keep up a title challenge is a legitimate one. The Gunners are now extremely thin in the midfield without Cazorla, Coquelin, and Arteta, and they must face Manchester City and Southampton before the end of the year. That’s not even mentioning a must-win Champions League battle with Olympiacos next week.
It’s worth noting that the Gunners have survived injury crises before. It seems to be a yearly tradition in North London, but Arsenal still seems to work their way into the top four come season’s end. That goal seems well within reach once more.
But there was a prevailing belief that this was the season Arsenal would compete for a first BPL title since the invincible season of 2003-04. With Cech in goal, the Gunners finally had a backstop talented enough to match their wealth of outfield players. Mesut Ozil has settled and turned into the devastating threat he was at Madrid in his third season in England, while Alexis has scored six goals and come alive in recent weeks. After Chelsea’s early struggles and Manchester City’s inconsistencies, the pieces were in place for the Gunners to really make a run at the top of the table.
Again, though, injuries have slowed that charge. Wenger continues to work his top four magic, but his title fights have taken a step back. The Frenchman needs to find players who can fill out his midfield effectively over the next few weeks and months, and while he probably has those in his squad, whether he has enough depth throughout remains to be seen.
It looks like Arsenal will again need to overcome an almost impossible number of injuries, though, and that challenge once again seems like a whole lot to overcome. It’s not impossible, but it will certainly be difficult.