Arsenal: Injury Issues Have Been Overlooked But We Deserve Criticism
For the home side, this is their last make or break game of a somewhat disastrous month, where despite progress to the FA Cup semi-final being secured and a narrow win at biggest rivals Tottenham, it has been a largely unsuccessful March.
With away losses to Chelsea and Stoke, as well as a draw at home to lowly Swansea in the league, they also bowed out of the Champions League, despite a 1-1 draw at the Allianz.
Should they lose today in the early evening kick-off to direct title rivals Manchester City, their quest for their first Premier League since 2003 is surely over, and once again will be left to try and secure fourth place, despite Arsène Wenger’s insistence that 1st place is still their target:
"There is no other priority other than coming first.
"That is still our target.
"Champions keep going when everybody else would give up. We have an opportunity to show that we have that mentality.”
Visitors Manchester City however, are going into the game on the back of three consecutive league wins across March, a month that also saw them pick up the first piece of silverware for the season.
Yet, similar to Arsène Wenger’s side, they also crashed out of the Champions League to Tata Martino’s Barcelona, and more surprisingly, were knocked out of the FA Cup to Uwe Rosler’s Wigan.
So whilst both teams have had mixed fortunes, Manchester City are the significant favourites going into the game at the Emirates, despite Manuel Pellegrini’s best efforts to play down that tag:
"Maybe Arsenal didn't have a good week, but they continue being a very good team.
“They are playing at home, they have very good players and we will need to play a good game if we want to win."
Despite Arsenal winning 4 of the 7 meetings between the two at the Emirates in the League, City winning just once, Arsenal’s poor form since their win at White Hart Lane has the team lacking confidence and fans starting to get back on the back of the players and manager.
With boos ringing round the stadium midweek at both half time and full time when they lost more ground in the race in the league, Arsène Wenger has a tough task regaining their confidence for the rest of the season, and more importantly, before their FA Cup semi-final against Wigan in two weeks time.
Whilst the Gunners hideous luck with injuries has somewhat been overlooked by pundits slamming their fall from grace over the past month, they are not completely wrong with their criticism, with the 13/14 season looking like it is going to follow in the footsteps of many a promising campaign that has gone before it.
With first teamers, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott all missing for the north Londoners tonight, they should still have had enough depth to avoid their hiding at Stamford Bridge last weekend, and enough to overcome Gary Monk’s Swansea on Tuesday.
But such is the fortunes of Arsenal, their season looks like fizzling out once more, and if they are not at full concentration tomorrow against the league’s second highest scorers, the fans and players could be in for another highly unpleasant 90 minutes of football.
However, whilst Man. City brushed aside a lifeless Manchester United and David Moyes on Tuesday, they will surely face a significantly tougher test when they come up against Arsenal.
With Sergio Aguero missing, and Alvaro Negredo without a goal since the 21st of January for the club, or since 1st January for a goal in the league, the Spaniard looks as if his tireless work ethic has finally caught up with him.
With Frenchman Koscielny missing for Arsenal though, he could fancy his chances of grabbing a goal should he feature against Thomas Vermaelen, who struggled to contain the physical Wilfried Bony on Tuesday night.
As we say though, Negredo is unlikely to start, with derby hero Edin Dzeko keeping his place leading the line.
It is from midfield though that Arsenal has their biggest worry.
Yaya Toure notched his 21st goal of the season on Tuesday in just 42 games, a ratio of one goal every two games and Arsène Wenger admitted in yesterday’s press conference that his failure to sign him in 2003 is up there with one of his biggest regrets in football:
"It’s up at the top.
"But let’s not forget that Yaya Toure had an agreement with us and it’s not because we did not want to sign him that he went to Ukraine.”
Besides from Toure, Samir Nasri, David Silva and Fernandinho will also give Arsène Wneger plenty to think about when setting up his team.
However, if Arsenal try to take the game to Pellegrini’s men as Wenger suggested they will, then they will be in serious trouble once more, they just can’t afford to.
They tried to last weekend against Chelsea. Enough said.
For once in a big game this season, they need to absorb pressure and wait for their chances rather than bringing the game to the opposition.
The midfield isn’t yet disciplined enough, or the full-backs for that matter, to be able to out play oppositions who are better across the field, as they’ve found out against the three teams directly above them.
Arsenal need to stay tight, play on the break and build their confidence up, they can’t afford to take another heavy defeat. It could end their season for good.
The player’s confidence will be on the floor and the fans will lose all remaining faith, and whilst some may say this has been nothing more than a bad week for the club, it could turn in to so much more if they get hit for 4 or 5 again tomorrow.
On a side note, beware of middle-aged men tomorrow around 7pm if they do lose heavily. They’ll be threatening to make all sorts of banners and crap to take to Wembley and what not. Because after all, it’s not as if there is anything bigger to worry about in life than your team not winning a football match for 10 days! Yeesh.
Follow George on Twitter, @GeorgeStoneman