With the news that Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta will be sidelined fro up to three weeks, Gunners’ boss Arsene Wenger faces something of a selection headache as his side head in to their most congested period of fixtures this season.
The North Londoners will likely have to play 5 games without one of their most experienced, consistent, and effective players, including their crucial FA Cup replay with Swansea this week and Premier League clashes with Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool, and Stoke.
Against Manchester City on Sunday, Wenger brought in Abou Diaby for the injured Spaniard but the Frenchman had not played in 4 months after suffering yet another agonizing injury setback – his first touch, passing and fitness were all exposed as well below par for a fixture of that proportion against such dangerous opposition.
The fact that Wenger opted to throw Diaby back into the first team so soon after his return without any substantial preparation exposes the glaring and desperate need Arsenal currently have to add depth and quality to their squad, yet so far the long-serving boss has yet to make any additions to strengthen in the January transfer window.
Arteta has actually been playing out of position all season – he has been converted into a defensive midfielder since the departure of Alex Song to Barcelona and although he has performed exceptionally well there and has adapted as well as could be expected, that is not his natural and preferred position.
The failure of Wenger to replace Song in his team was essentially a calculated risk. The young Francis Coquelin was on the bench on Sunday but despite his improvements he is still vastly inexperienced and lacking in quality.
The fact that Wenger chose Diaby over the young midfielder again highlights the void that Alex Song has left in this team. Diaby had a terrible game on Sunday and he has never been regarded as a ‘defensive’ midfielder – quite to the contrary, he is an attacking midfielder and, at any rate, his awful injury woes make him as useful to the Gunners as ashtray on a motorbike.
Emmanuel Frimpong is perhaps a decent candidate to fill that position but, once again, there are serious concerns over his fitness and he still lacks experience and quality. He’s returned form loan at Charlton where I suspect he was intended to develop in those areas.
Jack Wilshere is possibly the most capable of playing in that position – but then the boss runs the risk of stunting his development in his preferred, most natural and most effective position in central and attacking midfield.
There are several players of exceptional quality and potential available in this transfer window – the likes of Yann M’Vila, Etienne Capoue, and Lucas Biglia could all be available for far less than the Gunners received for the sale of Song.
Yet the manager has still not appeared to be interested in buying someone to replace him. Now with an onslaught of important games coming their way, the Gunners are depleted by the loss of Arteta and, in many ways, the manager has been overplaying his midfield trio anyway, which often increases the likelihood of injuries.
Wilshere had spent 17 months out and has been playing almost every minute of every game since his return to full fitness – that’s a risk I’m surprised the manager is taking with such an important asset to the club’s future.
Santi Cazorla has been playing every game and you can see the difference between his effectiveness at the start of the season compared to now half-way through it when he does seem a little fatigued, jaded and lacking sharpness.
Wenger needs to improve his options as soon as possible – why he hasn’t done so yet is beyond me but when there is a desperate and glaring need for improvements and cover and he has the money at his disposal, persisting with his current method of mend and make do is effectively the definition of insanity: repeating the same behavior over and over again, expecting different results.
image: © wonker