Crippling long-term injuries to key first team players Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez has left Arsenal in pieces. As a title challenging side, it’s now about how Arsene Wenger can cope with this setback, but how does he re-shuffle the dented pack?
Unlike last season, Arsenal are lucky enough not to have picked up many defensive injuries. Hector Bellerin spent a brief spell on the sidelines, but Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs will return for selection on Saturday against Sunderland. Gibbs continues to struggle for a first team spot with Nacho Monreal continuing to impress. The English defender may find himself filling in on the left hand side of midfield again, with a lack of options in that area following an injury to Alexis Sanchez.
It is the centre of the park where the problems start for Arsenal. Big problems. Coquelin and Cazorla have formed a pretty strong bond at the base of the midfield in 2015, and to suddenly see both ruled out for months, it’s more than frustrating. But the Gunners cannot feel sorry for themselves; they have a must-win home game against Sunderland on Saturday and cannot afford to drop many points in December, following on from a winless November.
Wenger has talked about using Calum Chambers in midfield, but I don’t think that option should be exercised unless needs must. Aaron Ramsey should return to his favoured role, the one where he excelled and attracted interest from the likes of Real Madrid. Since he’s been moved out wide, he’s struggled to find form and confidence. Cazorla’s injury provides the Welshman with a huge chance to find his best form again. He’s a completely different player to string-puller Cazorla, but if Mathieu Flamini can focus on steadying the ship, the added attacking impact that Ramsey can offer through the middle is huge. For all his quality, Cazorla has been pretty woeful in front of goal in 2015. His shots regularly find the higher rows in the stands and it’s not often that you’ll see the Spaniard in the box. Ramsey on the other hand, has the potential to score frequently. His desire to get into goal scoring positions creates unexpected problems for opposition defences, whilst his ability from distance has been proven on several occasions.
In attack I’d like to see Theo Walcott return to the right wing. He may have excelled through the middle at the start of the season, but Olivier Giroud is also impressing. Combine Giroud’s form with the lack of wide options currently fit in Arsenal’s squad, and it becomes more of a necessity that Theo returns to the right.
If you cast your minds back a year or two, you’ll remember how well Walcott and Giroud are capable of linking up. Theo’s pace stretched opposition defences, and with equally quick delivery he regularly assisted the instinctive finisher that is Giroud. Arsenal will need to recreate such a partnership if they are to score enough goals with the creative duo of Cazorla and Alexis out injured. On the left hand side of attack, it’s time for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to step up. After an inconsistent start to the season, Chamberlain picked up yet another injury. He’s not that young anymore, at 22 the club need to start seeing signs of progression and for all his quality (banter) off the field, we are still waiting to see him realise that huge potential on the pitch.
It’s midfield where Arsenal look tender, with only Gibbs, Joel Campbell and Calum Chambers rotation options to the team I specified above. Arsenal fans must cross their fingers and hope there are no more injuries. With Jack Wilshere likely to be the next first teamer to return, it’s time for the British core to come to the fore. Alongside Chamberlain, Ramsey and Walcott, these players have the quality, but do they have the consistency to negotiate a busy December?
The Gunners will have to rely on their best players from 2013-14. Walcott and Giroud’s link-up play and Ramsey’s season-long purple-patch. Arsenal fans may want to cross their toes, too.