Hello. On Saturday at 12. 30 we play Manchester United. Tomorrow night, it looks as if Alexis Sanchez is going to play for Chile against Uruguay. He’s back in training as they prepare for this game but pictures show that Arsene Wenger’s information about a hamstring strain is correct.
Chile are downplaying the seriousness of the problem because they really, really need him. Qualification is far from assured and they could do with a win. He is one of their most important and effective players, and given that they don’t have another international until next year, getting him through the 90 minutes is all they have to worry about. After that it becomes Arsenal’s problem.
And, of course, Sanchez’s problem, because he has to return to the club that pays his wages, knowing he’s played when he probably shouldn’t have. Best case scenario is that he plays and doesn’t aggravate the problem any further. It might still be the kind of tear that keeps him out for a while. Worst case scenarios include him doing more serious damage to his hamstring and ending up out for far longer than he should be, or trying to show the same commitment for us as he is for his country and making the problem worse.
And we play Manchester United at Old Trafford at 12.30 on Saturday. We’re going to be without Hector Bellerin, who has suffered ankle ligament damage and, as I said the other day, those are words that scare me. I would steel yourself for news of a longer absence for Bellerin than has been previously suggested. It may not be the case, and hopefully he’s a quick healer, but players who have this kind of injury typically miss more than just a couple of weeks.
We’ll also be without Santi Cazorla, as his Achilles problems continue to keep him sidelined. So, we’re going to Old Trafford without our first choice right-back, without a key midfielder, and potentially without our first choice striker, who also happens to be our joint leading scorer and assist maker this season.
In midfield there are plenty of options for Arsene Wenger, and with Aaron Ramsey fit again, there are ways to offset the absence of Cazorla. Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey and Coquelin give him a number of variations. However, Bellerin and Sanchez are fundamental parts of the Arsenal machine this season. Without them, we have to play a different way. The back-up at right-back is adequate, and maybe it’ll be a chance for Carl Jenkinson to really step up, but I wonder how he’ll be feeling about playing at Old Trafford again after his nightmare there some years ago.
Up front it’s going to be Olivier Giroud. There is no other option. Lucas Perez is injured, Danny Welbeck is injured, Theo Walcott is a winger again. It’s safe to say though that we play a different game when he’s up front. He’s not going to drift out wide or deep to pick up the ball. There won’t be the same space for the likes of Mesut Ozil or Walcott to try and fill. That’s not to say he, and we, can’t be effective. We’ve won lots of games with him up top, it’s just not the same in terms of movement and fluidity.
It will require some serious stepping up from those who are fit, and for the team to try and find a groove in a different way. I suppose the thing you would say is that it’s familiar, at least. It’s something we’ve made work before, so it’s not as if we’re looking at a whole new way of playing, but ahead of two hugely important games (United and PSG), it’s far from ideal to lose players who are so important.
Going back to Alexis though, all eyes will be on Chile tomorrow night. As much as we might cast aspersions at the Chilean FA for their part in this, the player also has to take some responsibility. Maybe it’s hard for us as Arsenal fans to understand just how important playing for your country is to some of these guys, but it really, really is. Perhaps more so than club football. Nevertheless, if we endure the worst possible outcome, whereby he plays, makes it worse, and misses weeks or maybe months (last year’s hamstring problem sidelined him for two months), I don’t think he’s going to find much in the way of understanding.
Certainly not from Arsene Wenger, and the qualities that fans admire – his commitment, his willingness to push himself to the very limits for his team – might well be viewed a bit stupid if he hurts himself even more. Anyway, let’s see what happens, keep fingers crossed, pray to whoever you feel like praying too, and we’ll know more on Wednesday morning.
Right, that’s just about that for this morning. James and I will be here with an Arsecast Extra this morning, so if you have any questions/topics for discussion, please send to us on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog using the hashtag #arsecastextra. We’ll have that for you before lunch.