Arsenal will welcome Galatasaray to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday in unfamiliar territory having suffered defeat in their opening Champions League match for the first time under Arsene Wenger.
A win is already a must if the Gunners are to have any hope of challenging for the top spot in Group D, but they will have to do so with a number of key players absent after their already depleted squad was hit further by injury during the 1-1 North London Derby draw with Tottenham on Saturday.
The Gunners are already without long-term absentees Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Debuchy, who both look to be out of action until the New Year, while Theo Walcott is yet to return having not played since January after suffering a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in the FA Cup win over Spurs.
Arsenal opened their European group stage account with a comprehensive 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund, having narrowly come through a play-off qualifier with Besiktas. It means that they must win against another Turkish side in Galatasaray, but the comeback draw against Spurs has cost them the services of one of their most influential players in midfielder Aaron Ramsey.
While the Welshman hasn’t been as prolific this season as he was at the start of the 2013-14 campaign, his importance to the side is unquestioned, and the news that he’ll miss both the European match against Galatasaray and the Premier League encounter against Chelsea next weekend through a hamstring injury comes as a real blow to Wenger’s side.
Compounding his absence is the loss of captain Mikel Arteta, who had only just returned from an ankle injury earlier this month, as the Spaniard has picked up a calf knock that will rule him out of the same matches.
Had Wenger begun to question whether his midfield was cursed, he would have been left in no uncertainty when he saw Jack Wilshere also collapse to the ground with an ankle injury of his own. The England midfielder’s previous injury history is a well-documented one, and the Gunners medical staff will have shuddered at the thought of another lengthy lay-off for the 22-year-old.
While he was able to continue, he could still miss Wednesday’s match and would therefore be a major concern for the trip to Stamford Bridge next Sunday.
It leaves Wenger with a serious question to ponder; who does he play in midfield?
Mathieu Flamini would be the obvious choice to fill the defensive holding role, although his form of late is another cause for concern. The Frenchman was at fault for Spurs’ goal on Saturday as he turned on a Calum Chambers pass straight into the path of Christian Eriksen, who fed Erik Lamela and in-turn Nacer Chadli to open the scoring.
With Abou Diaby making his return from a long-term lay-off in last week’s Capital One Cup defeat to Southampton, he would be an option to either replace Flamini or partner him in the middle, but Tomas Rosicky would likely come in with the Czech Republic international a favourite of Wenger’s.
There remains the possibility of re-jigging the attacking trio that will play behind striker Danny Welbeck. Mesut Özil could be restored to a central role through the absence of Ramsey, although Wenger could look to field Oxlade-Chamberlain through the middle having looked accomplished there in the past. Santi Cazorla may be out of form, but Spanish midfielder should return on the left, while there is always the option of recalling World Cup winner Lukas Podolski having appeared sparingly this season. One near-certainty though will be the return of Alexis Sanchez, with Wenger naming the Chilean somewhat controversially on the bench for the visit of Spurs.
Should Sanchez return on the right, it would free-up Oxlade-Chamberlain to play in a central role, although either player is capable of playing on the left-flank should Wenger choose to play both out wide.
How Arsenal could line up on Wednesday:
Starting XI: Wojciech Szczesny; Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs; Mathieu Flamini, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla; Danny Welbeck.
Subs: David Ospina, Francis Coquelin, Tomas Rosicky, Gedion Zelalem, Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski, Yaya Sanogo
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