Arsenal’s options limited by injury crisis
Per Mertesacker. Andre Santos. Sebastien Squillaci. Johan Djourou. Kieran Gibbs. Abou Diaby. Tomas Rosicky. Mikel Arteta. Aaron Ramsey. Jack Wilshere. Emmanuel Frimpong. Yossi Benayoun. Francis Coquelin.
Those are all of the players who are unavailable to Arsenal for the home leg against AC Milan on Tuesday night – Tomas Rosicky, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou are in italics due to their status of ‘doubtful’. There is just one specialist midfielder (Alex Song) in the entire first team at Arsene Wenger’s disposal, assuming that Rosicky doesn’t recover in time. If ever there was an injury crisis, this was it.
With so many midfielders injured, an option might be to bring a defender such as Thomas Vermaelen into midfield. However, this isn’t an option either – just four defenders in the first team are available: Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson, who will presumably make up the back four. Arsenal’s squad has suddenly been annihilated by injuries.
Out of the entirety of the first team squad, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only player who could plausibly play in midfield alongside Alex Song. Then you have the remaining forwards – Robin van Persie, Marouane Chamakh, Park Ju-Young, Theo Walcott and Gervinho, with four places needing to be filled. Walcott and Gervinho would naturally play as wide forwards, while you’d probably want Robin van Persie playing off of Chamakh. In the entire squad, that only leaves Lukasz Fabianski and Park unused (poor guy).
It would be a bit of an odd shape – some would optimistically call it a 4-4-2, as many have been calling for that for months. However, Walcott and Gervinho are certainly not wide midfielders, but more wide forwards/strikers. This would leave the formation as more of a 4-2-4, or a 4-2-1-3 when van Persie drops off of Chamakh.
The mix-and-match formation would see two things that haven’t happened a whole lot at Arsenal – Robin van Persie playing behind a main striker, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield. Many have called for van Persie to be deployed in the “Bergkamp role”, and the last time he was from the start was against Partizan Belgrade in the Champions League.
As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, it does seem as if he’ll end up as a central midfielder. He appears to have all of the vital attributes – powerful runs, an excellent range of passing, a sturdy build and superb long shots. However, Arsene Wenger will continue to play the ex-Southampton man (who did appear a lot in midfield at St Mary’s, including against Manchester United in the FA Cup) out wide for as long as he can. As with van Persie and Theo Walcott, and it could be argued Nicklas Bendtner, it’s where he seems to put offensive players until he’s satisfied that they’re ready to move centrally.
Chamberlain did come on for Abou Diaby through necessity against Liverpool, but Tomas Rosicky was there also to offer protection, which will probably not be the case on Tuesday. Chamberlain will have to maintain a huge amount of discipline, especially alongside Alex Song, who tends to roam. Song will also need to curb his attacking instincts – although it’s a bit of a catch-22 for Arsenal. They need to go on the attack, and with the line-up they’ll be forced to opt for that will be the natural thing to do. But with such a make-shift midfield in particular, they’ll be extremely vulnerable on the counter-attack, so may not want to commit too many players forward.