There’s mixed news on the injury front going into tonight’s Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund.
The good: Laurent Koscielny is back in the squad and, if he’s back in the squad then he’s got to be in contention for a start. Having been out since October 5th, and with the manager indicating last week he was still a few weeks away, to thrust him back into action early is a bit of a surprise. However, and I know this might sound naive, you’d like to think they wouldn’t be taking any unnecessary risks with him.
If he’s feeling good enough to train properly again and be included, then it’s going to be hugely tempting to start him. I guess we’ll see.
The bad: There’s no Jack Wilshere (more on him anon), Wojciech Szczesny or Theo Walcott – and there’s a doubt over Danny Welbeck. It means Emi Martinez will start in goal, as he did away to Anderlecht, Aaron Ramsey will continue in midfield, and up front there may well be some thinking to do as Olivier Giroud can’t play as he wasn’t expected back until after the group stages and was not registered, therefore he’s ineligible.
The manager might well look at Alexis as the main striker tonight and we know he can do a job there. The other options, should Welbeck not make it, are Lukas Podolski (doubtful, although he might start on the left); Joel Campbell (also doubtful as he hasn’t even made the squad in recent weeks); or Yaya Sanogo (quite possible because Arsene loves him some Yaya).
I think Wilshere’s absence will probably see Santi Cazorla return to the midfield and if it were me I’d play Arteta and Ramsey close together, and Cazorla a little further forward in the central role he likes. There’s the possibility that the manager might decide to give Arteta and Flamini a game together to add some defensive solidity so that’s an option too, but it does feel like he’s having to juggle things around for this game.
He spoke about Alexis being tired after his international exploits and with a busy Christmas schedule coming up at a time when he’s used to a winter break, he’s got to consider how best to manage him through that. Is tonight one of the nights where he can consider using him as sub? I don’t think so, not the way we’re playing and not when you look at our need to get something from this game. He’s still the player likeliest to get us goals so it’d be a brave (and perhaps better informed) decision to leave him out.
What’s important is that we try, hard as it might be, to take the positives from United on Saturday. Until they scored we were the better team and had we taken our chances the game would have taken on a different complexion. We know Dortmund have had their struggles domestically but in Europe they’ve got 4 wins out of 4, scored 13, conceded 1, and Jurgen Klopp says because of the strife back home this feels like a holiday to him. There’s no pressure on them, at all. It’s entirely on us because of, well, all the reasons we’ve discussed over the last few weeks.
At his press conference yesterday, the manager was in bullish form, talking up his team and players:
I especially believe in my players, and in their quality and spirit. I personally feel that there’s a very strong bond inside the team and the club, and that this team will have a very strong season. I am ready to bet with you on that.
In the longer-term we can argue over what might define a ‘strong season’, but in the very short-term this is almost like laying down a marker to his team. We know he likes to accentuate the positives in public, so there’s never going to be an admission that things are badly wrong or that confidence is low, but unless those things have been addressed behind closed doors then it’s going to be difficult for the team to turn things around.
Let’s hope that it is the case. That some lessons have been learned from the mistakes we’ve made, but it boils down to this: talking about that won’t convince anyone. We’ve got to see it on the pitch and tonight, against opposition that we know well and who always provide a tough test, would be a great place to start.
Now, back to Jack Wilshere. When the news of his absence emerged yesterday, followed by the story that he may need surgery, there seemed to be an outpouring of anger and frustration. Another Arsenal injury, another Wilshere lay-off, an injury prone player. And look, while our medical situation may, at times, look like a field hospital in the Crimean War manned by volunteer postmen and nurses who were trained at Dr Amp U Tee’s School of Sawbones, I don’t get why the anger at this particular injury is directed at club or player.
On this occasion it was a bad challenge from the United player which injured Wilshere. Not over-training, red zones, misdiagnosis or anything else. Sure, he didn’t make the most of the opportunity when he had the ball, but it doesn’t take away from the fact the tackle was nasty and always likely to cause considerable damage.
He looks set to be out for 8 weeks, maybe more. Certainly well into the new year and, as mentioned above, this is a time of year when you’re playing 3 times a week, sometimes 2 games in 48 hours, and being able to rotate the squad is crucial. I do think we have something of an issue in that Ramsey and Jack seem to struggle to find a way to play together effectively, compounded by the fact the manager plays them together as often as he possibly can (in the hope they will find a way to click), but that doesn’t mean to say there’s anything beneficial about him being out of action for as long as he will be. Let’s hope he recovers well and soon.
As always, if you’re stuck in work later on, or you can’t see the game for any other reason, join us for the live blog which will give you up up to the second text commentary and a place to chat with other Arsenal fans. Check back later for a post with all the details.