Arsenal Latest: Injury Concerns, Post-Sunderland Ramblings and Andre Santos Out
With the African Cup of Nations out of the way, football fans like me look forward to the end of the campaign to see Nigeria play in the 2013 Confederations Cup. The draws haven’t been “too kind” for my nation as Nigeria has been drawn with World and European champions, Spain, South American champions, Uruguay and Tahiti completes the numbers.
There’s a lot of football to be played between now and June so all focus would be firmly fixed on Arsenal’s surge for a fourth place finish as well as going all the way in the FA Cup. As for the two-legged tie against Bayern Munich, you’ll hear from me in the coming weeks.
Champions League football is back on our TV screens as the fiery Celtic will take on the Old Lady, Juventus while Valencia hosts the Arab moneybags from Paris. Every neutral is also anticipating tomorrow’s mouthwatering clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid, and Jose Mourinho was seen in Old Trafford when Manchester United eased past Everton to go 12 points clear at the top.
That win over Everton was good from an Arsenal perspective as it gave the Gunners some breathing space from Everton, with Tottenham and Chelsea the new targets set in place. Both teams were successful in the weekend as Gareth Bale inspired his team yet again to a victory against those French folks at Newcastle, while Chelsea ran riot past Wigan.
Arsenal’s cause wasn’t helped against Sunderland after to turning points in the game – Jack Wilshere’s thigh injury and Carl Jenkinson’s red card.
Nonetheless, the Gunners defended valiantly and a win with the odds stacked against them must have bolstered their confidence. I was very impressed with Bacary Sagna’s positioning and discipline. Despite playing out of position when Laurent Koscielny got a knock during the warm-up, Sagna was drafted into the middle in the last minute and boy, did he put up a show.
Aaron Ramsey’s work ethic is what commending as well, as he became Arsenal’s right back after Jenko’s red card and in my honest opinion, he did very well there. This was a player that was pulled out from his national side with a calf injury but he worked his skins of for his team in the Stadium of Light.
Wojciech Szczesny was a beast in goal and he commanded his area like a general in battle. He also made some good saves as the game progressed and it was good seeing the big Pole keep his second clean sheet in a row with fixtures against Blackburn and Bayern Munich coming up.
Szczesny has praised his team’s character (via Arsenal.com) in the wake of the nervy victory against Sunderland and he hailed a defensive rearguard that had never played together before. To be frank, that was the first time I witnessed the Jenkinson-Sagna-Mertesacker-Monreal combo and they were brilliant.
Arsene Wenger hailed his team’s display and hopes that they can build on it. Results like these inspire confidence and one can understand where the manager is coming from. When Arsenal played Sunderland and Stoke at the start of the season, the team hadn’t adjusted to the loss of Robin van Persie and despite keeping clean sheets at the back, the Gunners were shooting blanks in attack.
But with Arsenal running out of games, they’ll have to ensure that they don’t drop any more points, as the teams above them continue to win while sides like Everton as also breathing down their necks as well. Mikel Arteta has acknowledged that qualifying for the Champions League this season won’t be an easy feat, but he remains confident that Arsenal has what it takes to cross the finish line come May.
This was the period last season when the Gunners lost to AC Milan and Sunderland in quick-fire fashion but the 5-2 win over Spurs sparked a revival that paved the way for a good end to the campaign.
The game between Sunderland and Arsenal turned out to be a battle and like every battle, there were some casualties.
Jack Wilshere ran the show against the Black Cats in the first half and it was no surprise when he was directly involved in the game’s only goal. It took a solo run from the maestro to teeing up Theo Walcott that looked up before cushioning a pass for Santi Cazorla and the rest they say was history.
In the early minutes of the second half, Wilshere clashed with Alfred N’ Diaye and within seconds, he notified the bench that his time was up. That wasn’t a great sight as everyone connected with Arsenal became deeply concerned, and shortly afterwards, he was replaced by Abou Diaby.
Arsene Wenger stated that he may be out for four to five days, and the club will be doing everything possible to make sure that he’ll be fit for the clash against Bayern. The quality in the squad should be more than enough to see out the threat of Blackburn this weekend.
With Jenkinson suspended for this weekend’s match, Arsenal will be thin-bare in defense, as Koscielny is currently out of action, as well as club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, that’s currently nursing an ankle injury. The Daily Mail reports that Arsenal’s skipper has had an anti-inflammatory injection on his ankle in the club’s bid to avoid a surgery for the player.
If Vermaelen goes under the knife to solve his ankle problems, the chances of him featuring this season will be slim to none.
On the bright side, Lukasz Fabianski made his long-awaited return to fitness in Arsenal’s Under-21s 2-2 draw with Manchester United. Hot prospect, Chuba Akpom, scored both goals in the contest and other promising players like Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld, Nico Yennaris, Martin Angha, Conor Henderson and Ignasi Miquel featured as well.
For those who say that Arsene Wenger is very mild on his players, here’s another reality check.
Enter Andre Santos, a panic-buy from Fenerbahce in 2011 that was believed to join the long lineage of great Arsenal left backs after Gael Clichy decided not to renew his contract to opt for the petro-greens of Manchester City. Kieran Gibbs was touted as Clichy’s long-term replacement, but he wasn’t reliable enough to stay fit.
With Gibbs facing a spell on the sidelines during that period, the left back slot was Andre Santos for keeps and like every new signing, the fans watched his games with optimism. His opening goal against Olympiakos came from one of his forays forward and he also played a key role in the away games against Chelsea and West Brom with well-taken goals after darting forward.
He was more or less a wing back, as he derived joy in bombing forward while neglecting his defensive duties. To spare his blushes, he had a red-hot Koscielny, that always covered ground to make vital interceptions when Andre Santos was out of position.
Kieran Gibbs return to full fitness as well as consistent game time saw the player become reborn and he became a bright spark in Arsenal’s campaign thus far. More games for Gibbs ultimately meant that Andre Santos was going to spend more time in the dugout but when the Brazilian was summoned into the pitch, he became a Chamakh 2.0.
He was badly exposed in Arsenal’s shameful group stage defeat to Schalke 04 and the more Andre Santos played, the higher the risk of Arsenal conceding a goal with a cross from the right hand side, as if the team’s defensive problems weren’t enough already.
While his cup was getting full with the fans, he reached his breaking point when he exchanged jerseys with van Persie at halftime, despite putting up a torrid display all game long. While Arsene Wenger kept calm, fans voiced their disgust on that act and many Gooners put the all-smiley, cuddly maverick on their bad books.
Despite the pleas from the fans for the club to get a striker and a holding midfielder, Arsenal acted faster than Usain Bolt on transfer deadline day when Kieran Gibbs picked up an injury against Liverpool. With Thomas Vermaelen’s fitness being an issue, the chances of featuring him as a left back for a considerable chunk of the season weren’t in Wenger’s lexicon.
So the club swooped for Nacho Monreal that has slotted in superbly into the defensive line, like he has been there for ages. Arsenal has decided to offload the Brazilian to Gremio, and he’ll be there till the end of the season.
This means that Monreal will make the left back slot his for keeps, till Kieran Gibbs returns to full fitness, then the real battle will begin.