Gunners' injury crisis worsens

Title chase impeded with nine key men out, but Wenger insists he had to gamble on some

Arsenal's Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez going off injured in the 1-1 draw against Norwich on Sunday. Laurent Koscielny and Santi Cazorla also hurt their hip and knee respectively.
Arsenal's Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez going off injured in the 1-1 draw against Norwich on Sunday. Laurent Koscielny and Santi Cazorla also hurt their hip and knee respectively.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Arsene Wenger claimed that he would take no regrets on board Arsenal's brief flight back following a 1-1 draw at Norwich on Sunday, but there can be no doubt the Frenchman took with him plenty of baggage.

Not just another two points dropped in the Premier League title race, but also three more players lost to injury. Wenger and his team, all of a sudden, have hit a patch of unexpected turbulence.

The 14-minute journey from Norfolk back to Bedfordshire would have looked more like a medical evacuation than a team flight: Laurent Koscielny "barely able to move" with a hip injury; Santi Cazorla "on one leg after jarring his knee ligaments"; Alexis Sanchez putting a "brave face" on what looked an awful lot like a pulled hamstring.

That brings the number of Arsenal's walking wounded to nine first-team players. But, more than the quantity of absentees, it is the quality of them that will concern Wenger now.

As Lewis Grabban proved in cancelling out Mesut Oezil's opening goal, Gabriel is a weaker link than Koscielny. Cazorla is the team's spiritual leader.

As for Sanchez, well, his significance is best illustrated by the background to his injury.

For more than a year, Wenger has been warning that the Chilean was on the cusp of the "red zone", the point at which accumulated fatigue would make him more vulnerable to injury. He has been aware for months that the 26-year-old needed a rest, a couple of weeks for his body to recover.

He even said, on the eve of this game, that Sanchez's hamstring was tight, that it might be something of a gamble to play the striker. And still Wenger played him.

The French manager insisted after the match that he could not have expected what happened, that he did not regret taking the risk.

He will never deviate from that line in public. Whether he does so in private will depend on what comes next - how long the Chilean is out for; how Arsenal fare without him, not just with Manchester City on the horizon in the league on Dec 21 but also the small matter of that showdown with Olympiakos in the Champions League next week to consider.

"No, no, no," said Wenger, when asked whether he regretted playing Sanchez. "The players are there to play football, not to be rested when the press decides they need to be. (Sanchez) says it is just a kick on his hamstring, but I believe - and I fear - that is not the reality.

"Nobody is scientifically developed enough to predict exactly when he will be injured. Not even the press. Despite all our tests, we did not know. We checked it. He had normal force and normal stretch.

"There are plenty of players in Europe who play in every single game. We are a bit short - there is no Theo Walcott, no Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is only just coming back.

"I have to take a gamble on one so I don't have to take a gamble on another. I am glad you (the media) are worried for us. But trust us, we will be there."

Should they continue to play like this, that seems a particularly ambitious prediction. Just as they did at West Bromwich Albion the previous week, Arsenal managed to take the lead but somehow contrived to throw it away.

The only solace for Wenger will be that, unlike that frustrating afternoon at The Hawthorns, they clung on to protect a point they could, in other circumstances, have lost.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Gunners' injury crisis worsens'. Print Edition | Subscribe