Injuries and Arsenal, the words that flow like poetry in motion. Like a tragic novel, Arsenal are built up with hope of a romantic season with a fully fit squad for us to wax lyrical about, only for a drastic turn to strip us to our bare bones. Coquelin being the most recent tragedy to add to an ever growing list, will this novel end differently, or is it writing on the wall for injuries to plague another Arsenal title charge?
14th August 2016, 5.15pm, the besiegement begins. Aaron Ramsey the first victim to fall, a hamstring injury, something with unfortunately become accustomed to. The fallout was calametous. Bad turned to worse for Arsenal, conceding a fourth, before mounting a mini-revival. An already ill-prepared Gunners side was facing the inevitable of tragedy at the first hurdle. However, things changed. As if on a 10 year holiday, squad depth returned to Emirates, embraced as though it were the prodigal son returning home. Shkordan Mustafi and Lucas Perez, combined with the returning international players gave depth to Wenger he has been clamouring for. To put this depth into perspective, in the Gunners 3-0 rout of Chelsea, Egyptian international Mohamed ElNeny didn’t even make it onto the bench. The same Mohamed ElNeny who in the 2015/16 season completed the most passes of any player since he debuted.
Francis Coquelin was next to fall to the injury curse, with his knee being forced to withstand the full force of an N’Golo Kante shot. Previous seasons would have seen would have seen fear and anxiety cloud the Emirates as the French destroyer trudged off the battlefield. Not this year. Swiss maestro Granit Xhaka, who arguably should be starting for the Arsenal, was a more than able deputiser for the combative Frenchman, instigating fluid attacks whilst simultaneously protecting the wall of Mustafi and Koscielny behind him from any harm. Initial prognosis on Francis suggested months out of action, yet this dwindled down from months, to weeks, to days. The 25 year old now finds himself facing a late fitness test to be in the squad against Burnley. A near miracle based on the media hysteria around the injury.
Not only are the injuries lengths declining, the fitness levels are increasing. With a fluid forward line, the Gunners can press in unison, catching defenders isolated and suffocating them with pressure. Both on and off the ball, fitness levels are through the roof at Arsenal this season. Theo Walcott being the epitome of this. The Englishman has won 14 tackles so far this season, the most of any Arsenal player. To put this into perspective, this is more tackles than he has won in the two previous season combined. Whether this is down to a alternative fitness regime, or an improvement in work ethic that Arsenal fans have been desperate to see for years, something is different, and it’s infectious.
That said, there’s trouble in paradise. Aaron Ramsey was predicted to be back after the international break, yet 3 weeks later, he is facing another international break stuck in the Arsenal treatment room. A lot is made about how Wilshere, Walcott, and Chamberlain’s injuries have stagnated their development, but Arsenal need to be cautious that Ramsey doesn’t become the latest casualty. With a marvellous Euro 2016 under his belt, and a beta tactic in the making to cater for his needs, the Gunner’s need to fix a vital cog in their fitness machine or face tragedy at the end of the book of Arsene.