Saturday morning and kick-off is a matter of…ah, still thirty-odd hours away. There’s a bit of time to kill so this morning’s playlist Mr Love (in the right sidebar or here) will help while away an hour or so.
Arsène has no need of such distractions, he has plenty of things to occupy his time. As well as getting the remnants of his squad together for tomorrow’s North London Derby, he has launched an inquiry that will look for the truth behind the causes of the seemingly never-ending list of injuries which have kicked the squad from pillar to post. Being used to such endeavours set up by the British government over the years, the cynical might believe it to be a public relations exercise coming so quickly on the heels of news that Aaron Ramsey has suffered another setback on his road to recovery. After all, the first question to be asked is why it has taken this long for the penny to drop? The obvious answer is that the wheels may come off the Premier League season as a result; better to pre-empt criticism than react to it.
“I am concerned that this happens. If you look at our overall injury list going into such a decisive part of the season, we have not Wilshere, not Walcott, not Özil, not Ramsey and we went to Bayern without Gibbs and Monreal. We are analysing very deeply why it happened and to see if there is a link between all these injuries.”
– Arsène Wenger yesterday
Injuries are causing problems with Mesut Özil’s the latest in a long line to the treatment room this season. You only have to look at the potential occupants of the bench tomorrow to realise how thin the squad has become. Whilst there is merit in the suggestion that misfortune has played a part in striking at the heart of the midfield, the strains on that part of the squad have been there since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury on the opening day. Signing Özil alleviated some of that problem and with the numbers in the first team squad limited to twenty-five plus fringe players, there are only a limited number of spaces available. In other areas, you can’t help but shake the feeling that Wenger has been playing with fire and has been lucky not to be left a scorch mark on the earth. It is still inconceivable how we have missed the opportunity to sign an experienced striker in the past two windows (and before, for that matter) and how lucky they have been regarding Olivier Giroud’s fitness. He still relies on that with Nicklas Bendtner no longer seemingly part of his plans following his bunk to Copenhagen this week. Yaya Sanogo for all his promise, still has a dubious fitness record.
Whilst assuring that “everything will be analysed“, the concern is that Arsène will not allow those tasked with providing answers, to ask the right questions. Already the agenda appears to have been set with the manager already bringing international football into the equation. There are consequences from these matches and they do impact but when the majority of injuries are wear and tear, it is impossible for the club to exonerated. In those circumstances, culpability sits even more squarely at club level for they have to manage the squad and embrace these additional fixtures into their routines because they know they exist and will always be there.
Whether the problem is, as Wenger, suggested to do with training routines and pitches remains to be seen and is not likely to be that simplistic. Arsène knows that it is likely to be conditioning, training, matches and rehabilitation which combine to bring the problems in the first place and that no one area is going to provide all the solutions. But when the manager puts Walcott’s injury down to “bad luck“, you have to be concerned as to whether or not there will be a proper review which is ultimately beneficial to the future. It’s in Arsène’s interest if he is to sign a new contract, to find the solution as it benefits himself and the club; a self-confessed ‘winner’, he wants more silverware but the answers may force him to look at his methods wholesale, a process which is not the most comfortable one can undertake especially if they have proven successful in the past.
Wenger found an unlikely ally in Jose Mourinho on the subject of the number of games and allowing proper recovery time in between even though the Chelsea manager was referring explicitly to the scheduling of fixtures in relation to Champions League matches. Television is a problem which needs to be addressed and whilst logically you would sympathise with both Chelsea and City on the way that Sky and BT interfere with preparations, their problems are to Arsenal’s potential gain domestically this season. Equally, the clubs need to be stronger in their collective negotiations with the broadcasters on these matters; they have made their beds and must lie in them, no matter how uncomfortable.
I hope the club do take this as seriously as the pronouncement gives the impression. Not just from the perspective of improving their fortunes which we all want but also from witnessing players whose careers are being disrupted continually. Walcott, Wilshere and Ramsey have all missed considerable numbers of matches through injury, Rosicky also. These are supremely talented individuals who will enhance any team when they are on the pitch and lift the clouds of mediocrity which besiege the English game at the moment. Game changers such as these are the ones you pay the inflated ticket prices to watch, they are ones who capture the imagination and habitual injuries diminish their impact. We shall see what the outcome is.
Finally, this month’s Backpass magazine carries an interesting piece on Alan Skirton – one for the older readers – which is well worth grabbing hold of when you are next in the newsagents.