How are Arsenal shaping up on the injury front as they head into a crucial run of fixtures that will determine their fate this season?
The Gunners are continuing to defy expectations that they will fall away in the Premier League title race despite a merry-go-round of injuries and knocks to key players
Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa saw them return to the top of the Premier League table having been briefly overtaken by rivals Manchester City and Chelsea, but just as they looked to be returning to full strength with a number of injury concerns returning to action, they suffered further setbacks with injuries to Tomas Rosicky and Nacho Monreal.
Arsene Wenger welcomed back striker Olivier Giroud and attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil to his starting line-up, after the pair had been absent due to ankle and shoulder injuries respectively. Giroud was making his first appearance since the win over Newcastle before the turn of the year, while Ozil returned to the starting line-up for the first time since the Boxing Day victory against West Ham after he suffered a shoulder injury.
The Gunners also had Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench, with both recovering from serious injuries suffered early in the season. Oxlade-Chamberlain came off the bench in the 86th minute to make his first appearance since the opening day defeat, also to Aston Villa, after he departed with a knee injury that kept him out for nearly five months.
But with a crucial run of games coming up across February and March, where Arsenal will face all of their main rivals in Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City along with the Champions League double-header against Bayern Munich, how is the squad shaping up as such a pivotal point in the season?
The long-term injury list doesn’t make pleasant reading for supporters of the north London club, with the influential Theo Walcott already ruled out for the remainder of the season after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in the 2-0 FA Cup win over Tottenham. The luckless Abou Diaby remains an absentee as he also recovers from damaged cruciate ligaments. However, having not played since March, Wenger confirmed that he is nowhere near a comeback, and could miss the remainder of the season.
“His recovery is going very slowly,” said Wenger when discussing a potential return for Diaby. “Will he play again this season? I don’t know. He is still on a long-term recovery programme.”
Nicklas Bendtner is nearing a return from the ankle injury he picked up while scoring against Cardiff City on New Year’s Day, although that date is expected to be towards the end of January, while fellow striker Yaya Sanogo, who has played just nine minutes of league football after coming off the bench in the August victory over Fulham, is also due back from injury this month.
Short-term loses include the in-form Aaron Ramsey, who has been nothing short of phenomenal in his improvement this season, and England left-back Kieran Gibbs. Gibbs will be required to replace Monreal after the Spaniard suffered a possible broken metatarsal on Monday night, with the 24-year-old expected to recover from a calf knock sooner rather than later.
Rosicky could potentially feature even if he did suffer a suspected broken nose having clashed with Gabriel Agbonlahor. The midfielder could choose to wear a protective mask in order to feature, in the same fashion as Chelsea duo Demba Ba and Fernando Torres have fashioned in the past having suffered a similar injury.
Barring any potential setbacks, Arsenal could look close to full strength come the end of January, with the absence of Walcott set to be their only key player missing from the squad. This could lead to Wenger choosing not to spend in the current transfer window, with rumours – and nothing more – claiming the Gunners will look to bring in a new striker before the end of the month.
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