So it appears that Granit Xhaka’s injury also included a bone break as well, which is the reason he’s been out a little longer than we originally feared when he went down injured. Obviously that’s also the reason why – despite the fact he’s been seen in training and is doing ball work already – the return time he has set is around a month.
That makes sense. Bones obviously need time to stitch themselves back together and the last thing we want is a player doing what happened to Partey when he returned too early against Tottenham last season and then lost him for an extended period of time thereafter. We can all see what an impact that had on the start to Partey’s career and so perhaps the coaching staff have learned their lesson and are being ultra cautious. For us it means we are without a senior player a little longer than we might like, but better that we get him back in a fit enough mould to slot in to that midfield by the time January rocks around. Because January ain’t gonna be a fun month. The games are hard, we have players missing at the stupid AFCON, plus it’s the time in the year when injuries start to kick in anyway. At least that’s what I always think.
It’s normally in the new year that I start to think that the season starts to become more of a slog. I don’t know why in my mind I’ve arbitrarily staked in the ground that Christmas period, but after that it always feels like you’re hearing about teams picking up knocks, about the fatigued starting to kick in, etc. Obviously the fact the FA Cup is added in to the mix as a competition has an impact, but for those teams fighting in Europe many are fighting on multiple fronts and have been playing twice a week since September. The season is nine months long but it is when it hits that halfway stage that I start to think about those teams like Leicester and West Ham perhaps having to contend with a schedule of games that is a little more intense than the size of their squad dictates. That’s the hope, anyway, because by the time that February comes around what we’re normally seeing is that rotation of squads is a little more difficult as you get in to knockout phases of the competition. Normally in the Europa League we would see Arsenal play a rotated team in the group stages. West Ham, for example, have been playing a string team in those stages, perhaps because their squad isn’t big enough for the manager to have faith they can win games with a fully rotated squad. I wonder if that cadence of regular games this side of Christmas has helped those West Ham players get in to the swing of playing more regularly, flowing a little better and perhaps that is why they are doing so well. The challenge for them will be maintaining it because it will be some feat on their part if they have the same team lining up each week between now and the end of the season. IF they do then their med team have obviously found some kind of elixir of life and so fair play to them. But if they do start to break down, that is where we need to be able to capitalise.
We don’t exactly have the highest calibre of squad though, which is why players like Granit Xhaka are – despite what half the fanbase seems to believe – very important to our cause. Xhaka is an experienced head, he is a ball retention merchant, a player with whom Arteta relies on and has faith in. He is the archetypal footballer that Arteta can slot in to his system and he will do exactly what he’s told, stand in the ‘zones’ that Arteta needs, cover space and cut out the lanes that Arteta wants cut out. He might not be everyone’s cup of tea and indeed, the number Xhaka brain farts he does in a season maddens even the most patient of us all, but I cannot believe anybody who would tell me that where we are right now and with the squad we’ve got right now, we are better with him injured and not there to support the team.
So if he can return ahead of schedule and maybe play some minutes over the hectic Christmas period, then all the better for the Arsenal, as far as I’m concerned. With the fixtures coming as thick and fast as they are right now we are going to need all hands on deck and like him or lump him, Xhaka is another hand on that deck.
I think I might leave it there fore today. Little bit of a shorter one, but hopefully we get a bit of a team update at some stage today ahead of the lunchtime kick off on Saturday. Have yourself a lovely ol’ time and I will catch thee in the morrow.