It’s All About the Squad

Arsene Wenger finding no difficulty getting experience for his youngest players

It appears that Arsene Wenger’s mortal soul is safe. Had he made any kind of deal with the Devil, surely it would have involved keeping his key players healthy. In a season that has seen an impossible number of gunners drop out of the team with injury, the tally is continuing to grow. For Arsenal Football Club, the depth of our squad has been tested this season more than anyone could have expected.

As you already know, Almunia and Gallas were injured in Tuesday night’s game. Almunia looks set to miss a critical three week period and Gallas, sadly, is set to miss the remainder of the campaign. Love him or hate him, Gallas is an experienced center half with big game experience and a knack for scoring the occasional crucial goal. Now Johan Djourou will have to show that he can form a dependable partnership with Kolo Toure. It will surely be a baptism by fire for the young Swiss. Even more importantly, we MUST keep our remaining defenders healthy. If another one of them were to get injured then…

Another one of them is injured.

Now I get to see what happens to a blogger who has the temerity to question one of our most influential players. I have been writing recently that Gael Clichy’s play has been uneven and sloppy. I won’t have to worry about that for a few weeks, because now he’s out of the team. Apparently he hurt his back during Tuesday night’s game and will miss two weeks. So it’s either Gibbs (hopefully) or Silvestre (dear God) who comes in for at least four critical games.

When I think about some of our worst performances last season, like the Champions League match in Sevilla, or the pummeling at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, most of the games that come to mind involved unproven players starting in defense. Players like Senderos and Hoyte made up those defensive ranks and they looked badly out of their depth. This season, the 3-0 loss to Manchester City was arguably our worst. In that game, Hoyte, Djourou and Silvestre all started in defense. Losing defenders at a critical period of the season was not in the plan. While I’m thrilled to have our best attacking players returning to the fold, we will need rousing performances from Gibbs and Djourou to push through this challenging period victoriously. (I’m not even considering Silvestre. I can’t bear it.)

Paula Abdul once sang that she takes “two steps forward and two steps back.” Arsenal have bettered her by taking two steps forward and THREE steps back. Your move Paula. But since we have covered the backwards steps, let’s enjoy ourselves for a moment and look at the progress. Both Eduardo and Van Persie have fitness tests on Friday to determine their status for the match at Wigan on Saturday. Fingers crossed they both have returned to fitness and at least one of them can partner Adebayor in attack. I think it will be a return to the 4-4-2 on Saturday, but it’s anyone’s guess as to which players make up the numbers.

You really have to feel for Arsene Wenger. He finally gets the team heading in the right direction, has his best players coming back at just the right time, and before some of the biggest games of the season, half of the defense goes missing through injury. It’s been a season of injuries for Arsenal and the only positive spin you can put on all this misery is that some of our younger players have garnered long stretches of playing time that they wouldn’t have been anticipating in August. Players like Song, Denilson, Bendtner, Vela, Ramsey, Djourou and even Gibbs will end this season with real, top competition experience. That can only help us next season.

Tomorrow I’ll do a Wigan preview but I can’t help but wonder who will start on Saturday. Arsene will be looking for games where he can get some rest for Ade, Cesc and Theo. We play twice a week until mid-May and he will have to be careful with how far he pushes them. At this point, Wenger must wake up in a cold sweat every night worried that he’s lost another player. But it’s not paranoia if it’s actually happening. I wouldn’t blame him if he became over-cautious about playing his stars every three days.

My guess is that Theo will get a rest on Saturday. Nasri and Arshavin are available and can play the wings. Cesc will partner someone in midfield. My vote is for Song. Then it’s Ade and RVP in attack provided that Van Persie passes his fitness test. Wenger may be tempted to give Ade a rest and start Eduardo if he’s healthy, or even Bendtner. Either way, it’s a strong side. And having Ade and Theo on the bench would give us a boost in the second half if necessary. We all waited with baited breath for our attacking players to return from injury. Now we would probably trade one away to get Gallas back for the rest of the season.

The home leg of our Champions League tie will be upon us before the images of Adebayor’s wonder goal have faded from our thoughts. As important as Saturday’s game will be, there’s simply no chance that Ade or Cesc or Theo play 90 minutes. In fact, I’d be shocked if Nasri played 90 minutes either. My guess is that Nasri will be removed for Theo on 60 minutes and Cesc and Ade will be withdrawn for Bendtner and Denilson or Eboue sometime soon after. If Wenger doesn’t make those changes on Saturday, then there will be some real nail-biting about match fitness before Wednesday’s game. Regardless, I’m really looking forward to the Wigan match. It’s our first decent test of character in the league for quite some time. It’s a measuring stick for our progress and a win will reassure many supporters that we are witnessing a true revival.

On another sour note, I can’t help but continue to express sympathy for Tomas Rosicky. He’s had another set back and he’s apparently “not close” to returning. It’s made even more depressing by the reports that he was going to play in a reserve game this week. He is so incredibly talented and gives us a legitimate goal scoring threat from anywhere in midfield. At this point it’s clear that we won’t be seeing him this season. But I will be rooting for him all summer in hopes that he can return to us next season in decent form. He would be … say it with me… “like a new signing.” Hooray.

Wigan preview tomorrow. For now, start crossing figers and toes for today’s fitness tests.

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About Yankee Gunner

Loyal Arsenal Supporter, Obscure Television Personality
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