The human mind can be the bizarrest thing, seeking out and finding links where none might reasonably be considered to exist. Quite I developed earworm for the theme tune to The Adventures of Champion whilst I read about Mathieu Flamini hoping to do well over the next couple of months, I know not. I mean, we know his company has done something jolly whizzy with something really scientific that went way over my head but as far as I am aware, he isn’t going to save Old Red from the grizzly bear over yonder.
He’s going to be in the XI for some time, twelve weeks if Arsène’s prognosis of Francis Coquelin’s injury is reliable. It would certainly be unusual if it were but twelve weeks takes us beyond the close of the transfer window if my even more unreliable maths is correct. Yes, there is an ‘s’ in the word over here; we Brits drop our t’s and h’s often enough, we don’t need to add another letter to that collection.
Mikel Arteta’s out for a short while with his damaged calf and Calum Chambers is too callow for the Premier League in the defensive midfield role at present, especially in an away game in East Anglia. The team has to pick themselves up from the sloppy defeat at West Brom. Yes, we won in midweek and we shall celebrate that but frankly Dinamo’s performance was so bad that even Newcastle would have beaten them. Sunday’s hosts, Norwich, have a more pressing need for the points if they are to successfully stave off relegation.
By the time the match kicks off at Carrow Road, we will be three points behind the leaders, more if Leicester win at home to Manchester United. An injury scare over Alexis Sanchez is far from an ideal piece of news for Arsène to impart but with another three full days to recover, it will be no surprise to see the Chilean playing on Sunday. It’s an immediate worry for Wenger to deal with but nothing which can’t wait another couple of days.
He’ll have to wait a few more weeks for a new midfielder. That’s if he can find one of the required quality, of course. There’s no guarantee and as we saw in the summer, no-one might arrive. I have an uneasy feeling that Flamini performing industriously may be taken as the cue to leave everything be until the summer, hoping that between him and Arteta, we can muddle through until Coquelin’s return. The will, he said, is there: “the club is in a position where we want to do something.”
Even though it’s an immediate problem, it’s a long-term solution and Alexis’ absence would hit us harder. There’s no spontaneity in the decision to rest him despite Arsène’s contention. Tuesday saw him ‘rested’ by moving into the centre where he apparently used less energy; it didn’t seem that way and a player who was seen to be tired by some observers, remains so with this niggle perhaps the alarm bells that Wenger spoke of.
His importance to the side is shown by the reluctance to rest him and the desire for him to be in the starting line-up. Does the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey offer that moment? Maybe not this weekend but certainly against a struggling Sunderland side the following weekend. That said, if we can’t beat Norwich or Sunderland without Alexis, there is something very wrong with the squad. A group of players who talks of winning silverware ought to winning those games; you won’t challenge for the title without doing so.
I know injuries hit us hard but if you look at the December and January games, losing a key player because he wasn’t rested sooner deepens the impact, even if Theo Walcott and everyone else has returned by then. More to the point, history has shown us what happens if that decision isn’t made. It’s not an easy one to make, particularly in a sport notorious for its short-termism. And to some degree, Arsène is in a no-win situation. He’s damned if he rests Alexis and we lose, more so if we don’t and Sanchez picks up a serious injury, even if we win.
But that’s the sort of decision he is paid to make. Hopefully, he’ll get it right.