I feel like talking about something that has really been bugging me over the last few weeks and months, in relation to the way in which Arsenal are perceived, particularly by fans from other clubs. I’ve seen this narrative appearing since just before the World Cup, which has perpetuated through Christmas and then right up until today, which is seen as another caveat as to why Arsenal are top of the league.
You wait until they get some injuries. Then we’ll see the real Arsenal.
Firstly, let’s just put it straight: that is a stupid and completely incorrect argument. It is a weak excuse from fans of other clubs – probably some pundits too – to try to undermine the good work that Arteta and his Arsenal players have done so far this season. It is a red herring; a deflection to avoid the reality and that is that – regardless of where we end up in the table – Arsenal have been a very good team and a shining light surprise package in this Premier League season.
But it’s also a stupid argument because of the very fact that NO team is the REAL team when it has injuries. Every Premier League side has a squad of at least 11 – 13 players who will be the ‘first choice XI’. Those players are the ones that Premier League managers will rely on and if they are to have a good season, then as many of those players need to stay fit for as long as possible. So to talk about the ‘real’ Arsenal being the team that comes to the fore if we have a bunch of injuries, means you’re actually not talking about the ‘real’ Arsenal at all.
The fact remains that we can all tell you Arteta’s first XI:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Odegaard – Xhaka
Saka – Jesus – Martinelli
That is the first XI and if you’re talking about the ‘real’ Arsenal, that is the team you have to base your assessment on. And this team has been a massive contributing factor to the reason why we are where we are. Any team can win a one-off cup match, but we’re now 23 games into a season in which Arsenal have so far been the best team. That’s the very definition of consistency so far. And let me remind everyone and potentially any fans of other clubs who stumble across this blog: so far. Most of the Arsenal fans I speak to in real life are very cognisant of the fact that we’ve done nothing yet, that it is still too tight at the top, that Man City are the favourites and that they have done it all before. We all understand that and it’s why we are all acutely aware that the time for bravado and complacency is not now.
But what I particularly am acutely aware of, is this narrative of ‘they haven’t had any injuries this season’.
I’m sorry, what?
Because if you take a look at the injuries in our squad that we have had this season so far, you can see that we have, in fact, missed quite a number of players playing quite a number of matches this season. In fact, when I looked at the current number of days missed by those players I would call ‘squad players’, we are looking at a total of 71 matches across the squad missed so far since the start of the season.
‘Ok, but how many of those are first team starters?’ one might argue in response. If I take the above first XI as an example, I count 22 matches missed by those players this season. That is no small and insignificant amount.
How does that stack up against other teams around the top? Well, Man City is a little tougher to do because Pep does a lot of rotation, so I’ve picked 11 players as their ‘first XI’ to try to give a perspective. I’ve based it on players that have played recently against us and those players had a combined total of 26 games missing. So that’s four matches differential. Yes, we’ve had less matches where players have been injured, but to say we haven’t had injuries and ‘wait until they get some’ is a complete misnomer. Arsenal have had their injuries, they’ve had their key players missing, arguably more than City because Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko – who have missed 16 of the 22 we’ve missed – have been a big part of why we’re not as lucky on injuries as some corners of the footballing world are making out. If I include Partey we have another five matches to being it to 21.
Having said that, the hope is that for the run in we have remaining, we are due to get Gabriel Jesus back and hopefully when Arteta does his press conference tomorrow we’ll at least start hearing noises that he’s due to be back at some stage in the next week or two. Eddie has done an able deputy job, but we need our main man back, and I for one can’t wait until it happens.
So don’t let this ridiculous narrative that we haven’t suffered with injuries detract from the fact that (caveat incoming alert) – up until now and at this point in time – we have been very good and have done so despite an injury list that rivals most other teams. Liverpool could potentially be the exception and they have had a lot go wrong for them this season, but they’ve also started to get some of their main players back recently and they STILL aren’t quite looking like the same Liverpool of last season or the season before.
Anyway, I wanted to get that off my chest today, because it’s been bugging me for a while. I’ve done that, I can put that to bed and focus on other Arsenal related stuff, which I shall do tomorrow as we look at to another massive – and difficult – game away to Leicester on Saturday.
Catch you lovely people in the morrow.