Arsenal’s defense could yet be further weakened when they host Burnley in Premier League action on Saturday. Left-back Kieran Gibbs was forced off 16 minutes from the end of Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Sunderland last weekend with a hip injury and manager Arsène Wenger remains unsure about his status for the weekend visit to the Emirates of the Premier League’s bottom club.
“It is a hip problem,” Wenger said at his press conference on Thursday. “He came off at Sunderland with 20 minutes to go. He is a doubt but we’ll know more tomorrow.”
Gibbs’s absence would be a major blow. The 25-year-old was recently touted by his manager as the best left-back in the Premier League thanks to some fine performances this season, helped by finally getting a run of fitness after injuries have blighted his young career. Perhaps even more importantly, Arsenal can ill afford more injury problems at the back. Laurent Koscielny is out indefinitely with a long-term Achilles issue that was diagnosed to have flared up again while on international duty with France earlier this month.
“I cannot give you any date because we go day-by-day with him at the moment,” Wenger said last week. “I hope that after the next international break he will be available again. Before that I don’t think so.”
Arsenal left themselves in a precarious situation heading into the season, with the failure to replace Thomas Vermaelen leaving them with just six senior defenders. The folly of that decision became clear as soon as Mathieu Debuchy was forced to undergo surgery for damaged ankle ligaments last month. The right-back, signed in the summer from Newcastle United, posted photos of himself back in the gym on Twitter earlier this week with the comment: “Good session yesterday! Thanks for your messages.”
Debuchy was initially expected to miss three months, meaning he was scheduled to return to training at the start of the hectic festive period. While there may be hope that he can help out during a December run in which Arsenal take on Liverpool, Queens Park Rangers, West Ham and Southampton in the space of 12 days, an FA Cup third round match a week later appears a likelier return date.
For the time being, Arsenal will have to make do with a makeshift defense. For three consecutive games now that has meant left-back Nacho Monreal lining up alongside Per Mertesacker as a, thus far, fairly unconvincing central defender. If Gibbs cannot make it, Monreal will likely move over to his natural position, with Calum Chambers coming into the middle and Hector Bellerin taking over at right-back.
Going forward, Arsenal, currently lying fifth in the Premier League after just three wins from nine games, haven’t been firing on all cylinders of late, either. Against Sunderland it required two woeful defensive errors seized upon ruthlessly by Arsenal’s standout player this season, Alexis Sánchez, to seal a win. The match did, though, see the return to the first-team squad, after a nine-month absence of Theo Walcott. Although the winger didn’t get off the substitute’s bench against Sunderland, he could well get at least some minutes at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
“He’s fit but lacks competition,” Wenger said after the win over Sunderland. “Physically he lacks two things: contact in the Premier League and competition. But fitness wise there is no problem at all.”
The pace and direct running down the flank that Walcott brings will add much to an Arsenal attack that can often be crowded out in the middle. The next step would then be getting the speed of Walcott back in combination with the passing vision of Mesut Özil. Arsenal’s record signing, who is expected to be out until early 2015 with a knee problem, posted a picture to Google Plus this week showing him getting more physiotherapy treatment and the message: “Thanks for your great support to enable my quick recovery.”
More immediately, Wenger has confirmed that striker Yaya Sanogo will be fit to make his first appearance in two months, although Serge Gnabry and Abou Diaby are still unavailable.