In what has become a tradition for Arsenal supporters, the constant wait for key players to return from injury seems to be growing greater. As a team that deals with what seems like an inordinant amout of physical maladies, nearly every one of them turns out to be significantly more serious than the initial prognosis.
When we see players on other teams make unexpected returns from injury in shorter amounts of time than originally postulated, it begs the question: why does that never happen for Arsenal players?
It may be just my confirmation bias at work, with my mind altering reality in a way so that it confirms my preconceived notions about the fragility of Arsenal players. However this has been occurring for several years, developing a pattern in which Arsene Wenger says, "oh, it is not a serious problem, it should be two weeks and he will be back in training." (While typing, of course I was saying that aloud to myself with an exaggerated French accent.) Only to find out weeks later that, "what we first thought was a mild problem is now a much more serious injury, and the player should be back in four to six weeks time."
Then, as the four to six weeks pass, we then hear little about the player(s) in question, and we tend to forget, as the club is then confronted with its next round of injured players.
As we prepare to welcome the return of Nicklas Bendtner from his groin injury that has kept him sidelined for the first two months of the season, one begins to wonder; what about the others?
It is fantastic news that the Danish striker will reportedly return to game action for Arsenal in the Champions League clash against Shaktar Donetsk on October 19. However, with Marouane Chamakh playing a central striker role rather adeptly, Bendtner's return is not the impactful occurrence that Arsenal need at the moment. Of course, it is always beneficial to have players return from injury, and with the trip to Man City following on the heels of the Shaktar match, it will certainly help to rest some regulars.
With an ever-evolving list of players injured amongst the Arsenal ranks, it almost becomes difficult to keep track of them. We have recently learned that Bacary Sagna will be out approximately three more weeks recovering from his thigh injury. With Emmanuel Eboue in the squad and needing some playing time, we should be able to cope without Sagna for a short period, although he has been playing a quality right-back this season.
The bigger question is, what happened to Thomas Vermaelen? Upon injuring his achilles in the Blackburn match on August 28, initially we were told that he might only be sidelined a few days. Today though, it is October 12, and we have yet to see TV return to help solidify the Arsenal backline, nor have we heard definitive word from the Gunners' about when we should expect him back. Koscielny appears to be making strides, and in time should be a reliable defender for Arsenal, but his pairing with Squillaci has yet to inspire much confidence, and is not a desirable long-term situation.
Likewise, our favorite trio of oft-injured Gunners, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott have all been out longer than the initial diagnosis predicted. This should be no surprise coming from Walcott or RvP, as they have each spent as much time, if not more, injured than actually playing in recent years.
Van Persie, somehow made it through the World Cup unscathed, only to pick up a catastrophic ankle injury a whole two weeks into the Premiership season. He too last played in the Blackburn match on August 28, and at the time Monsieur Wenger stated, “At the start we were optimistic. Maybe a bit too much, thinking it would be one or two weeks. But the damage was bigger than expected and he will be four to six weeks.” We are currently in the midst of the seventh week, and have yet to hear any positive news. Shall we brace ourselves now for another lost season from our most potent offensive threat?
Theo Walcott, after a blistering start to Arsenal's season, had many believing that he is finally ready to realize the immense potential and live up to the hype that has been heaped upon him early in his footballing career. With four goals in his first three appearances, including a scintillating hat-trick performance against Blackpool, the excitement surrounding young Theo was at a fever pitch.
Of course, the dreaded international break then occurred, and Walcott was struck down in a freak occurence, getting clipped by a defender, injuring his ankle during Wayne Rooney's goal against Switzerland. Theo at the time, said that he should be back in a week or two, and that it was not serious at all. Shortly thereafter, Wenger confirmed that it was another injury of the "four-to-six week" variety, and said, “We had some good news about the scan because at some stage we were scared it could be worse. But overall it is a question of patience and rehabilitation.” Aw, the familiar story of Theo Walcott. The sixth week in that timeframe is now beginning, and we have yet to hear further news.
Speaking of freak injuries, Captain Fabregas' hamstring problem was the result of one of the strangest occurrences I've witnessed on a football pitch. His accidental deflection goal against Sunderland was both extremely fortunate and heart-breakingly unlucky simultaneously. The awkward positioning of his outstretched leg when he was hit by the defenders' clearance resulted in him limping off before half-time. That was September 18.
Since then, we were assured by Fabregas himself that he would be fit for the Chelsea clash at Stamford Bridge. Just prior to that match, Wenger stated, “I don’t know [about Cesc]. It looks a 50:50 but a 50:50 balancing on the negative side. I will find out on Saturday morning.”
The hopefully triumphant return of our captain never materialized, and the Gunners were put down at Stamford Bridge 2-0. His technical mastery and inspiration were sorely missed against the Blues.
We know that he is now once again in training, and is himself professing to be likely to play against Birmingham on Saturday, but that has yet to be confirmed. With no definitive word from Wenger, the concern remains that he may not yet be fully fit.
Considering Birmingham's current 16th place standing in the Premiership table, it may be tempting to continue resting him for the Shaktar mid-week clash and Man City away next weekend. As we have already seen in the season's first several weeks however, nothing can be taken for granted. Anything less than a full three points at home against Birmingham would be an utter disaster that the Gunners would likely not recover from this season.
Arsenal do have plenty of quality within their ranks to help cover for injured players in the short-term, but the squad depth is certainly stretched when these injuries seem to always turn into more significant problems than originally expected. Samir Nasri and the emerging Jack Wilshere are certainly quality players who are capable of manning the midfield for Arsenal, but is has to be noted that since the Fabregas injury, Arsenal have drawn against Sunderland, lost at the Emirates to West Brom, and been defeated by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It's safe to assume his presence has been missed.
As always, the truth remains that injuries affect each and every football team, there is simply no way to avoid them. Just once though, it would be nice for an Arsenal injury to fall within the timeframe of what is reasonably expected, rather than so often turning into a significant problem that lingers for a large stretch of the season. Who am I kidding though?