Monday, December 11, 2023

Interlull absences, injuries, and right-back

Good morning.

We’re now into the Interlull. Not just any Interlull either, the most terrifying Interlull I can ever remember. There has always been a ‘cross your fingers and hope everyone’s ok’ vibe running though previous ones, but never like this.

Some of our most important players are going to play games for their countries, and while we all recognise they have to happen and at international level they are important, with things the way they are we are desperate for them to come back unscathed. When Mikel Arteta was asked after the Palace game if he had a message for those going away, he said:

That they really look after themselves in this period. I will try to look after the players that have to remain with us here and that they come back with the same mindset that they have before so that we can go into Leeds which is the only important game we have right now and try to win that one.

Here’s who you have to worry about in the next couple of weeks:

England: Bukayo Saka, Aaron Ramsdale.

Switzerland: Granit Xhaka

Belgium: Leandro Trossard

Ghana: Thomas Partey

Norway: Martin Odegaard

Italy: Jorginho

Scotland: Kieran Tierney

Ukraine: Oleksandr Zinchenko – I assume this is the case, but I can’t find official confirmation. He’s not listed here, but it also says, ‘All Ukrainian representatives of the English Premier League …’, so I’m guessing he’ll be included.

Poland: Jakub Kiwior

USA: Matt Turner

There would have more too, but for the injuries sustained by William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu. Various rumours suggest that the Japan international requires surgery, which would put an end to this season, and that would be a real blow for him and for us. It leaves us without genuine right-back cover, as well as a player who can play at left-back, and centre-half too.

His time here has been punctuated by injury, and I’ve seen some people talking about how we deal with that. We have had players in the past who we relied on for too long despite the fact their record with injury told us that wasn’t wise. On a human level, you understand it and the club will – as with any player – do everything possible to get them fit. On a squad building level, there have been times when we could probably have been more decisive.

I don’t really think we’re at that point with Tomiyasu yet. For me, the latest issue was just bad luck rather than anything else. It’s not as if he is cursed with bad hamstrings, the same kind of repetitive injury that suggests there’s an inherent weakness somewhere. He slipped, something gave way, and like so many innocuous looking things in football, it appears to have been more serious.

The question I’d ask is: would you feel happier with a fit Tomiyasu available? I know I would, which is why I wouldn’t give up on him. He’s only 24, and has loads of time ahead of him. You can’t just discard someone who has, for want of a better line, been injured in the line of duty. Let’s hope he can recover well and then stay fit. If not, you have something to think about down the line, but not now.

That said, it does leave us with a lack of cover at right back. As James pointed out on the Arsecast Extra, Tomi and Ben White have shared a lot of minutes in that position of late. Now, we only have White, and there is no natural or obvious deputy in the squad. Thomas Partey finished the game against Crystal Palace there, and while he has played right back for Atletico Madrid in the past (including a Europa League semi-final against us), you really don’t want him there because he’s so important in midfield.

Could you use one of the left-backs? It’s a curious thing in football. A right-back playing left-back is relatively common, but it very, very rarely happens the other way around. Beyond that you have a centre-half in Rob Holding who could, by the simple virtue of being a defender, do a job; while the bench on Sunday contained 18 year old Reuell Walters, a promising Academy player. With 10 games of massive importance to go, it’d be a brave manager who gave a young defender his debut in that context, and I suspect Mikel Arteta would default to a more experienced option, even if it meant shifting someone out of position.

The good thing is Ben White isn’t away with England. Gareth Southgate’s personal preferences are a bit of a mystery to me, but right now it’s hard not to feel grateful that the England manager isn’t keen on using one of the best English defenders in the Premier League this season. If he can stay fit for those 10 games, the defensive musical chairs aren’t an issue, so let’s hope that’s the case.

Right, that’s it for this morning. If you haven’t had a chance to listen yet, the Arsecast Extra is below. Have a good one.


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