Arsenal will being facing up to their latest injury crisis when hosting Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Already missing a host of players, Arsenal’s fitness problems took a further turn for the worse in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, when both Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla were struck down with injuries. Both will be ruled out on Saturday, along with the likes of Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere.
“I don’t know, honestly [when they will be back],” Wenger revealed in his pre-match press conference. “Alexis is a hamstring [injury] but I don’t know how long it will take, he is usually a quick one to recover. Cazorla we don’t know until he has seen a specialist. There is no news on that.”
Wenger subsequently admitted that, in line with reports, “it is possible” that Cazorla could be out until March with knee ligament damage. Sanchez, meanwhile, who played last week despite having suffered a “hamstring alarm” in the days leading up to the game, looks set to miss at least three weeks. Yet Wenger defended his and the club’s handling of players’ fitness, despite Arsenal having regularly been struck down with lengthy injury lists in recent seasons. And, although he wouldn’t rule out adding to his squad in January, he attempted to look on the situation as a chance for others to make their mark.
“Ideally you want them all to be with you, but we are prepared to deal with it,” Wenger added. “A big miss of players like that is as well an opportunity for some other players to come in and show that they can fill in and have quality, and they are fresh and can have good impact to the team.”
There could be some good news on the fitness front, with Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott back in training and in contention to return to the squad on Saturday, if they come through late fitness tests.
Arsenal could certainly do with them being available as they seek to get back to winning ways. Wenger’s side have now gone three games without a victory in the Premier League to slip to fourth place in the table. And, while they are still just two points off the top, there is a growing sense that Arsenal are failing to take advantage of a wide open title race and a real chance to end their 12-year title drought.
In contrast Sunderland’s form has been on the up of late. Under new manager Sam Allardyce, the north-east club have climbed out of the relegation zone on the back of securing successive wins for the first time this season. However, Sunderland have not won at Arsenal since 1983. And Allardyce isn’t expecting an easy time on Saturday, regardless of Arsenal’s injury problems.
“[Despite injuries] they still have a top quality squad of international players,” the Sunderland manager said, reports the club’s official website. “Our best form will be needed even if people consider that Arsenal are weaker without those injured players, but I think the strength and depth of their squad over many years has been the key element as to why they have been so successful.”
Prediction: Sunderland have unsurprisingly gone back to basics under Allardyce, and it is starting to bear fruit, with two victories and two clean sheets. A tight game can be expected on Saturday then, especially with Arsenal missing the attacking threat and intensity of Sanchez. Also lacking the central midfield passing quality of Cazorla, Arsenal could struggle to break down Sunderland’s rearguard. But, with Mesut Özil still present and on form, the hosts could just grab the three points.
Predicted score: Arsenal 1-0 West Ham
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EST
TV channel: USA
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra