For seasons now, Arsenal’s injury problems have been magnified by a lack of quality back-up – last season they were always just an ailment or two away from having to play the calamitous Sebastien Squillaci and the error-prone Manuel Almunia, and ended up having to do so on several occasions. This season it has been a similar story; the apparently disinterested Andrey Arshavin and the rather gormless Marouane Chamakh have flattered to deceive whenever called upon, which has led to an unhealthy reliance on the first choice players.
Now though, it is not injuries that might give the fringe players a chance, but poor form of the first choice team. Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott in particular had little positive effect on the game in Milan and might have given Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin another chance to earn a regular place in the team. What’s different in this situation is that if they impress they could earn a permanent berth on Arsene Wenger’s team, instead of a temporary one which lasts only until the player they’re replacing returns from injury.
Wenger is said to have launched a scathing attack on his players who failed so miserably at the San Siro, and the likes of Arshavin and the on-loan Yossi Benayoun will see this as a great opportunity to stake a claim for a first team spot if given the chance this weekend against Sunderland. Benayoun impressed on the wing earlier in the season for Arsenal, but has seen his chances limited with the form of Gervinho and at times Theo Walcott. He got an assist playing in the hole against Wolves, but Arsene Wenger has seemed reluctant to play him in midfield more often.
As for Arshavin, he has seen his appearances cut further this season, so that he now has to settle for late substitute appearances as Wenger’s final roll of the dice and sudden starts. In truth, he should thrive in Arsenal’s 4-3-3 – he has much less defensive responsibilities than in previous years, and with the flexibility of the formation (despite the need at times for more structure) he can drift inside and wreak havoc.
What’s different in this situation is that if they impress they could earn a permanent berth on Arsene Wenger’s team
Wenger points to Arshavin’s statistics as a reason to ignore what most are seeing as poor performances, and indeed he did set up Thierry Henry’s fairy-tale winner at Sunderland last weekend. He might well give Arsenal something at the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup something that nobody else does; an unpredictability and the ability to be a match-winner for the Gunners; two things that Dennis Bergkamp criticised Arsenal for not having earlier in the week.
Arshavin has perhaps suffered from the absence of proper full backs of late – he’s had to keep the team’s width instead of being able to drift inside while the left back overlaps. However, Kieran Gibbs returned against Milan, which should help the Russian out.
Another player to come under fire for his performance against Milan was Alex Song. Kevin Prince-Boateng thrived in Max Allegri’s midfield, and this was partly down to the lax play of Song. Francis Coquelin has impressed when given a chance this season, and might be given another after Song’s poor display at the San Siro. The pitch is perhaps not suited to Coquelin’s style; but then the same probably goes for the entire Arsenal team.
In truth, Wojciech Szczesny hasn’t been performing to his best this season, and, should he be given a chance, Lukasz Fabianski will be able to turn the heat up on his compatriot. The number 2 at Arsenal has come under heavy criticism during his time at the Emirates Stadium, but last season performed well when given a run of games; he was one of Arsenal’s best players in the away games against Everton, Wolves and Manchester City.
This article first appeared on Chronicles of Almunia
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