Speaking at the press conference ahead of the midweek game against Dinamo Zagreb, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger confirmed the worst fears of Gooners everywhere when he revealed that defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin would be sidelined for at least two months (via ESPN). The French midfielder picked up a knee injury when attempting a sliding tackle in the game against West Brom, and had to come off after only 13 minutes.
Coquelin’s injury is perhaps the biggest possible blow to our title hopes, since the club is incapable of replacing him with a player of similar abilities. Attempts to play Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in the same role have met with minimal success, and as the pressure mounts on the Gunners to keep up with the leaders it looks unlikely that the veteran duo will be able to fill Le Coq’s shoes.
Wenger said, “It is at least two months but I’m cautious as we had so many bad surprises on scans that I do not want to speculate more than that. Certainly for the next two months we play without Coquelin.
“I must say we have been hit very hard in November. We have lost a few players. It is of course a disappointment to lose him in the longer term but we have in the squad the players who can compensate. We have lost a player of quality for a while but we know that can happen.
“I will give myself time, we have players who play in this position like Mathieu Flamini and players who can play there like Calum Chambers.
“Sometimes this is a good opportunity for other players to turn up and do the job. I will do what is needed in January, knowing as well it is not an ideal transfer market.”
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This sounds worrying to say the least. We have a long track record of not getting players back according to schedule, and “at least” two months could mean anything. Also, the fact that we are considering playing Calum Chambers in the defensive midfield role shows how desperate we are and how threadbare the squad really is. By doing “what is needed in January”, let’s hope the manager means that he will pay the price needed to bring in a quality replacement, because players of a decent calibre are not quite as hard to find as he seems to believe.
Flamini is the best we’ve got at the moment, and that really isn’t saying much. The Frenchman is totally unreliable, and can’t possibly replicate Coquelin’s qualities. Arteta is arguably well past his prime, and even if he still has a role at Arsenal, it’s certainly not as the sole defensive midfielder. He could possibly do a job as a more defensive alternative to Cazorla next to someone like Flamini or Coquelin, but even then he’s some way down the pecking order. Chambers may well prove to be a top quality player in the future, but his recent performances show he’s far from ready at the moment. Wenger still doesn’t seem to know what the youngster’s best position is, but we can’t be relying on relatively untested youth when looking to push for the title – players emerging like Hector Bellerin is not going to happen every day, unfortunately.
On a slightly more positive note, Aaron Ramsey has returned to full training and was pictured practicing with the rest of the squad today (via Sky Sports). However, his match fitness remains unclear and the manager was reluctant to divulge any details, saying, “I have not completely decided [whether Ramsey will play]. I have 24 more hours.”
Let’s hope we at least regain the services of the Welshman for our next game Premier League game.