The Arsenal murmurs at the moment appear to surround the potential lengthy absence of Wilshere through injury and if it is as bad as being rumoured – out until approaching the New Year – then there is real cause for concern for everyone.
Not so much for the squad, because I think we have the players who can cope and Jack was always going to have a battle on his hands to get in to the starting XI in his preferred central role, but more for the future of the player and the label that will inevitably be handed his way as “the new Diaby” or other such comments which may sound harsh, but when you look at his age and recent injury record it starts to be a concern that becomes very real. I’ve had a quick look at his history and since he broke in to the first team my count says that since 2011 he’s had 17 different injuries. That’s over four injuries a season over four seasons and when you look at that history you start to fear for his future. It appears to be predominantly his ankles and in a sport in which you’re invariably going to pick up knocks in that area, the one thing that you don’t want to keep having recurrences of is ankle or knee injuries.
I hope it isn’t as bad as feared, but we’ve been here before with Jack, where a short lay-off quickly turned in to half a season. We’ll no doubt know soon enough as Arsene will take to the press conference chair and tell all, but the silence of the club is usually a bad thing. If he is out for that length of time, then serious questions need to be asked, because no club can put their hopes in players who are persistently on the sidelines. That’s why we ran down Diaby’s contract because as good a talent as he was, he just couldn’t be relied on and at his age he was simply taking up room in a 25-man squad that the club couldn’t afford. When does it become like that for Jack?
I know it sounds harsh and even in my head and as I type I feel like casting myself into the fires of Mount Doom for uttering such things, because Jack is one of us and loves the club, but football moves quicker than most things in life. What would be to stop Arsene from moving quickly now to sign a player if Jack is out for a prolonged period of time? Then what happens if that player performs brilliantly? Then when Jack gets back in to the team there will be another person ahead of him in the queue for a starting place in the team. But Arsene can’t just wait around for Jack to be fit just to fit him in his team, can he?
It’s a headache that nobody wanted or needed ahead of a lot of optimism going in to the new season. We’ve had a fantastic pre season, the squad looks balanced and deep enough (maybe a tweak or two needed but that’s it) and even Wilshere himself has had a good pre season and was looking forward to having an injury-free year. Yet we find ourselves back at square one with him. If he’s out for a few months he’s effectively going to have to do his pre season prep all over again and that will be a ball ache in itself for the player, so I really feel for him.
Still, on the eve of the new Premier League season, we should be more upbeat than deflated despite the news we’re rumoured to be getting. I’m still feeling positive. I think we have the best possible chance to win the league with the players we have. I’m looking at the first four games this season as the springboard to a successful season. If we get the results we want against all of the teams we play in August, I think we can challenge for the title. I believe it will be our start that will frame our season, so the players have to be ready. In seasons past, our good runs have come because we’ve started well. In 2007/8 we won a heck of a lot of games at the beginning of the season and that helped us get as far as March as the league leaders before the Eduardo injury and a lack of belief in the team – possibly because of the size of the squad – saw us lose out. In 2013/14 we lost initially to Villa but then went on an amazing winning streak that again, only a weaker squad saw us fall away in March. See a pattern emerging here?
I remember hearing the journos talking about how well Arsenal had been playing in pre season before 2013/14 started and at the time I ignored it, but they have been saying similar things about Arsenal this time around. My only hope is that our squad is capable of sustaining a challenge until May. I think we are, I think the players believe they are, so all we really need is to build momentum. The kind of momentum that you get when you win your opening games.
We play West Ham at home on Sunday. We have to be looking to get maximum points there. Then we travel to Palace which will be tricky, but we need to again get our away form up and running too. I think with the acquisitions Palace have they will be better, but my hope is that they are still settling in and we can therefore take advantage of that by picking up all three points. The following week it’s a Monday night game against Liverpool and whilst they will surely be better than last season, we have to approach the game in the same way in which we approached the game at the Emirates last season. Press Liverpool higher, take advantage of a weaker defence and win at home. If we have nine points going in to the bank holiday weekend, I’d fancy us to do it away from home to Newcastle. We then have the Orcs at home before an international break.
It’s all there for the team. They just need to put the pre season form and all the talk in to practice and deliver us a winning start. Confidence will grow from there and we’d be in a perfect position to go to Stamford Bridge after the international break in September feeling like we can finally beat Chelski on their own patch.
All of this is contingent on a good start though. We have to put West Ham to the sword on Sunday and go from there. Come on Arsenal, you can do it.