It explains many things. A troublesome zip has always been the least of his troubles but we understand why it stopped working. Arsène’s Teflon anorak is losing its protective layer. Tellingly, in his attack on the media about Alexis’s fitness, Wenger knows it. The arch-gambler, the Brett Maverick of Premier League football, has seen the ball land on red when he placed all his money on black.
Or has he? This is a results based business and notoriously short-term in its outlook. The necessity for three points on Saturday over-rode every other consideration in team selection. That and the need to manage the likes of Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain on their path back to the first team.
During the week, Arsène made a pointed reference to Alexis’s hamstring and how he needed a rest. With a free week before the visit of Sunderland, there’s little doubt that he wagered on being able to fulfil that need with a couple of days off from training. Things didn’t turn out that way and now he faces the prospect of not having Sanchez available for selection for several weeks.
Reports yesterday ruled him out of Sunderland and Olympiakos, whilst questioning his availability over the Christmas period. That latter part seems to be scaremongering, being four weeks away. Certainly if the reports are true and Alexis is out for three weeks, he will miss the pre-Christmas visit of Manchester City. Wenger must be hoping that Santa takes note of the situation and decides to visit early. At the moment, the extent of his absence is not known with the club conducting more tests today to ascertain this.
The true cost of his gambles won’t be known fully until next year. We’re two points off the top of the table at the moment and let’s be honest, that shouldn’t get any worse over the next two Premier League matches with Sunderland and Aston Villa the opposition. No, we can’t be complacent but if we don’t beat them, we don’t deserve to be in the top four at the moment and in fairness, probably won’t be. Keeping pace with the top doesn’t guarantee anything but at least it shows an ambition to break out of the seemingly endless cycle of fourth place finishes.
Whilst it’s easy to blame training or physicians, we don’t know enough about these issues to be sure of what is causing some of the injuries. A clear distinction needs to be made as well, between those suffering ‘wear and tear’ like Sanchez and Cazorla, whose problems stem from contact. You can’t hold the club, the manager accountable for the latter but certainly he is culpable when it comes to the former. As much as he may rail against internationals, Wenger has, as Roy Hodgson observed, more opportunity to rest players than himself.
What is certain is that the cost of a lack of investment in the summer is now being felt. Wenger made it clear he couldn’t find players of sufficient quality at a price he wanted to pay, who would improve the squad. That valuation is now questionable, if it wasn’t already. It’s where the true cost of injuries is felt, not in losing players but the lack of options available to replace those out for any length of time.
It means, to the outsider, we are in a position where players are being rushed back. Theo Walcott was always pencilled in for a potential return next week in Greece, or at worst Villa Park. Now there’s talk about this weekend. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that his progress is being sped up. Even if it isn’t true, that perception will take hold over fact.
The Premier League has to be the over-riding concern; fielding the strongest available XI at the weekends is more important than in Greece, no matter what Arsène may say. We won’t win the Champions League, we’re nowhere near good enough and need such a huge slice of luck that it doesn’t even register as a genuine target. Knowing that, why would Wenger risk players against Olympiakos for any reason other than not having any other options?
Losing Cazorla is a blow because of the cumulative effect whilst Koscielny is expected to be fit by the weekend. Is it common sense to suggest he rests his back until next week? Gabriel is a capable deputy and having seen the French international leave the pitch ten minutes into Sunday’s game, Wenger must want to mitigate any risk of a recurrence of the injury.
Elsewhere, Arsenal took residence in fifth place on the agents spend table. Apparently £11m has been paid for their part in transfers and you would suspect, contract renegotiations. Certainly that figure on transfers alone doesn’t make sense given the low level of activity in the past two transfer windows, which is the period of time covered. Unless it contains legacy payments from last summer.
The report was commissioned by the clubs themselves so you would think that some honesty went into answering the questions asked. Or if not, under-cooking the figures rather than overstating them. But that’s the missing part, what the spend was for. We won’t be told by anyone, even if the question was asked. It’s a meaningless figure without more information but I’m sure will be spun to show how busy the club has been in the transfer market.