When Arsenal fans heard the news about Jack Wilshere’s injury, they could have been forgiven for thinking that their season was about to collapse in on itself. Already they were on the brink of finishing outside the top four for the first time in 15 years, and Wilshere was rightly seen as crucial to any chances of a strong finish to catch their rivals.
However the injury seems to have brought about a change in Wenger’s approach. Instead of trundling along with the same players and tactics that had been unsuccessful in recent months, Wenger made key changes to personnel, and has set his side up more conservatively to fine effect so far.
Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Wojiech Szczesny have all been more or less assured of a first team place when fit this season, but they have all been under par for a long time, and bringing in Laurent Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson and Lukasz Fabianski has re-energised the defence, and led to clean sheets away at Bayern Munich and Swansea.
Wenger could have made these changes without Wilshere, but the injury to his star man has perhaps helped to bring about a siege mentality at the club, and the manager and the players have responded well to this.
In the middle of the park, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky have seen more time on the pitch, and the former’s performance at Swansea was particularly indicative of what Arsenal have lacked in their midfield at times this season. His defensive work helped out the back four, and Per Mertesacker in particular looks a far better player with Koscielny next to him and a little more protection in the midfield.
Wilshere could be back in three weeks, although his injuries have an unpleasant habit of extending beyond their initial prognosis. When he does return, Wenger should put him into this team perhaps in place of Arteta, allowing the side to retain the more solid, defensive shape they had against Swansea.
With an improved back four being helped out by the midfield, Arsenal should be able to go on a fine run in the closing months of the season, and it will give them the best possible chance of catching their rivals.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald