Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Outflanked? Gunners injury crisis hits hard

In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, or perhaps it was Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams; 'If you build it, they will come'. That's certainly the case with Arsenal's much-vaunted new medical complex at London Colney, which opened in October. As well as a gym, an 'Olympic-style' strip of running track, screening equipment and exercise machines, it boasts a range of state-of-the-art technology including an anti-gravity treadmill.

Supposedly the centre is intended to help with preventing new injuries, as well as with treating current ones. So far, that first bit seems to have been a resounding failure, since Arsenal's already lengthy injury list seems to be growing longer by the week. As well as long-term absentee Jack Wilshere, the Gunners have also lost Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, and Abou Diaby – yep, he pulled a hamstring against Fulham. Even Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone are both out after picking up knocks against Olympiacos. That match also proved to be a game too far for Andre Santos, who, it was revealed today, has sustained ankle ligament damage and will be out for around three months. The medical centre will certainly be full in the coming weeks, then – it was built, and lo and behold the crocked and the knackered have hobbled in to queue up for a go on the space-age anti-gravity toy.

Let's hope it proves its worth by assisting the speedy recovery of the less seriously injured players. Unfortunately that doesn't include our Brazilian – his injury is significant and will require surgery, apparently, and he is flying back to his native country to have the operation. Santos was only playing in that (utterly meaningless) fixture because he was our only fit left-back; his injury was frustratingly predictable and meant that against Everton Wenger was forced to play a string of centre-backs in front of Szczesny, with the left-sided Vermaelen filling in for the Brazilian. That's a line-up that is now likely to be retained for the crucial away games against Man City and Villa – and possibly longer, since neither Jenkinson nor Gibbs are expected to return before Christmas.

The makeshift back four are all good defenders, and held their own against Everton, but Djourou looks a weak link – not altogether his fault, since through necessity he is being played out of position – and against the multi-million pound forwards of City we may well come unstuck. To be fair to Wenger, the situation is only really attributable to incredibly bad luck, but it comes at a time when Arsenal are making a concerted effort to break back into the top four, and this is therefore a period that could have a big impact on our ambitions for the reminder of the season.

Basically, the Gunners have just about run out of options when it comes to full-backs. Wenger's critics might say that reflects the paucity of the squad, but then, who could have predicted that both first choice and second choice full-backs on both flanks would get injured simultaneously? When we lost Clichy and Eboue both were replaced, and although some have suggested that we need to sign a left-back in the January transfer window, it's unlikely that will happen. Miquel, Yennaris and even Sebastian Squillaci could all be called upon to help out if necessary – and if we are to sign a player then there are probably more pressing issues in the striking department to attend to, given our almost complete reliance on the prolonged fitness of Robin van Persie.

Let's hope the new Arsenal Medical Centre has its own prayer corner devoted to the God of Glass Ankles, where Colin Lewin and his team of Arsenal-tracksuited physios are praying daily that our captain stays injury-free for the season. If any one of Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, or – more likely – Nigel De Jong scythe down our mercurial Dutchman on Sunday I'm going to go as mental as this Gooner did after the 4-4 with Newcastle last season.

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