It appears the prognosis on Xhaka’s knee ligament injury was worse than we thought and the club confirmed yesterday that he’ll be out for three months as a result of the damage that was done in the North London Derby. It’s a bitter blow for him and a blow for us. I spoke about it yesterday so won’t dwell on it too much, but three months from today, for example, is Christmas. If the season is nine months long he faces a minimum of a third of it out. Then you are talking about the period in which he’ll need to get back up to fitness, so that is most likely a couple of weeks at the earliest. So we’re looking at mid-January. Then when he’s fully up and running with match fitness you’re probably talking about the beginning of February. So we have effectively lost him for more than half of the season.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow because as I said yesterday Partey will be out in January and whilst the club have only just gone through a big transfer splurge and so shouldn’t have to think too far ahead in terms of the market, I really hope they are starting to look at options for January, because the fixtures aren’t easy and as it stands we’ll be going in to January without our first choice midfielders.
It puts in to contrast just how much things can swing because let’s just look at the opening few week’s of the season. Abject performances, lacking creativity and with a collective of players who failed to convince anyone. We fast forward a few week’s and we’re all on a high because the team has almost completely changed. Now imagine the NLD without Xhaka and Partey, then maybe somebody like Odegaard, if he got injured. It suddenly doesn’t feel as convincing that we pick up the win as easy, does it?
I said yesterday that Xhaka’s injury could be a blessing as much as it is a curse, because it gives opportunities to others to step up, or for Arteta to lean in to the 4-3-3 a little more, but it has also highlighted to me that we are a mini injury crisis away from having to rely on those squad players who were so bang average at the beginning of the season.
There’s no need to hit the panic button yet though. Because we aren’t in Europe we have less probability of picking up a mass crisis due to overloading of football matches. Impact injuries are always going to happen and as long as we don’t have a full treatment room for any period of time, one would hope that we can cope with the odd player breaking down. But Edu and Arteta should be very mindful of how our current situation of joy and higher morale across the club in staff and fans can turn south quickly. Momentum is essential and we need to keep up these wins not just because of the obvious benefit of points and rising up the table, but also because if we do get that knock from player x, or a suspension from player y, those one or two players coming in will find it a lot easier to slot in to a winning team. I think it was Paul Merson who used to say you don’t get tired when you’re in a winning team. I suspect that’s the same in terms of squad players getting themselves back up to speed even if they haven’t played as much. If the engine all around you is purring, perhaps you lift your game a little, even if you don’t have as much rhythm of playing matches consistently.
The good news right now is for Sambi and he’s been speaking about how he got his transfer to Arsenal, how Kompany was the one that was always asking more from him, to push him to step up, which he did, then that earned him his move. I’ve got to say I like this kid a lot. We all know he was captain at Anderlecht and perhaps that has given him the opportunity to step up, but the way he articulates himself, his presence o the pitch, his ability on the ball and progressive passing, it ticks all of the boxes as far as I’m concerned. Everyone is assuming that he will take over from Xhaka and perhaps that will be the case this Saturday, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t get as much game time as we all think. I don’t think he’s playing every game between now and January, anyway, because I suspect Arteta will be very mindful of putting too much pressure on. But Sambi has spoken about how he spoke to Arteta about the club which was important, but he then called us ‘legendary’ and said ‘Arsenal are Arsenal’ in terms of needing to be convinced to join. That sort of stuff is great to hear. I hope he has a long and successful career with us.
We’ve got some great young leaders in the side. Sambi looks like he’s one with the way he speaks and conducts himself. Odegaard was apparently helping Tomiyasu before his debut, as the Japanese international has already pointed out in a couple of media sources, Gabriel looks like that natural leader at the back and if you’re sat anywhere near Ramsdale’s goal on matchdays you can hear him barking and cajoling the players in front of him. Saka and Smith Rowe look like quieter lads, but their personalities with the ball and the assertiveness in how they receive it and always show for it, is leadership the likes of which we saw in Fabregas. Aubameyang is the official captain and there has been plenty of question marks over him, but he’ll be a guy who will add experience and support for the younger players and that can only be a good thing, as long as he keeps that happy face on.
I said it after the game in the match review and earlier this week, but it just ‘feels’ like we have a likeable team. Last season those players I have talked about were not here or in the side and instead we had Leno, Luiz, Willian, Elneny, regularly playing. Not exactly the same ‘characters’ or lads that you feel like you can see a bright future under, is it? But this collective of players feels more likeable to me. Of course this is still very early in their careers. We have gutted the team and put a new one in since the international break and there will come a time this season in which they go through a bad patch of form. Maybe it is around the corner and about to hit us. But I hope that these players react in the appropriate way that will get us back on the horse as soon as we’ve fallen off it.
For now we continue ton ride high though. Let’s hope that carries us through to Saturday and we can take that momentum to the South Cost when we face Brighton.