Arsene Wenger issued a gloomy bulletin on the fitness of his Arsenal team yesterday and conceded that he might have to select William Gallas, Theo Walcott and Mikaël Silvestre for tomorrow's crucial Premier League match with Manchester United despite the fact that none of them will be fully fit.
Silvestre, who broke his nose against Fenerbahce on Wednesday, could well face his former club patched up after sustaining what Wenger described as an "open wound" to his face following the elbow from Semih Sentürk. The France international will be assessed today before a decision is made but it is evident that the Arsenal team which takes the field against United will be a very long way from full fitness, never mind full strength.
The injuries to Gallas and Walcott meant that both were just rated by Wenger as "50-50" to be ready to play against United. However, the Arsenal manager has very few other options. Walcott's shoulder has been sore since he landed awkwardly after Rory Delap's controversial challenge during the Stoke game on Saturday. It is understood that his problem is not as severe as last year when he required surgery on his shoulder.
Gallas's hamstring injury makes him a doubt but Bacary Sagna could come back into the team at right-back – he is only a "slight concern" according to Wenger – allowing Kolo Touré to move back into the centre of defence. Silvestre's inclusion would be "a gamble", Wenger said, and the Arsenal manager is famously reluctant to pick his players when he believes they are not completely fit.
Manuel Almunia has recovered from his stomach complaint but Wenger confirmed that Emmanuel Adebayor, also injured in the Stoke game, and Emmanuel Eboué would not be fit for tomorrow. In Adebayor's absence, and with Robin van Persie suspended, it will fall upon Nicklas Bendtner to lead the line against the champions, a fairly daunting task for a 20-year-old with only 11 Premier League starts and six league goals in his entire Arsenal career.
The question of who plays alongside Bendtner tomorrow is a tricky one with possibly Walcott, if fit, or even the 19-year-old Carlos Vela who came on for the Dane during the game against Fenerbahce, being used. Even so it is extraordinary that Vela is even being considered given that he has never even started a Premier League game for Arsenal.
Bendtner conceded on Wednesday night that tomorrow's match could prove his most important yet as an Arsenal player. "Maybe I don't focus on the players who are out, I focus on myself," he said. "If they are available it's good for us. I still try to do the best I can to play. If I play [against United], obviously I would like to score, so let's hope it goes that way."
The dispute between Wenger and the Stoke manager Tony Pulis over Saturday's game continued yesterday when Pulis said that he would be speaking to the head of referees Keith Hackett to ensure that his team were not "perceived" as a dirty side. "I want to speak to him about Arsene's comments and the possible implications," Pulis said. "Perception is a massive thing in football and I don't want referees to take any notice of what Arsène has said. What he has come out with is way off the mark."
The Hull City manager, Phil Brown, has also waded into the debate. He said: "If you stamp that [physical side] out of the game then the game's finished, we might as well all just enjoy tippy-tappy five-a-side. I saw a typical Stoke performance, and a typical Arsenal performance. There was nothing wrong with it at all."
Results: Dynamo Kiev 1 Arsenal 1; Porto 3 Fenerbahce 1; Arsenal 4 Porto 0; Fenerbahce 0 Dynamo Kiev 0; Fenerbahce 2 Arsenal 5; Porto 0 Dynamo Kiev 1; Arsenal 0 Fenerbahce 0; Dynamo Kiev 1 Porto 2.
Arsenal's remaining group fixtures: 25 Nov: Dynamo Kiev (h); 10 Dec: Porto (a).