And then The Ornstein went and did that to us…
Yep, last night we got another injury blow via The Athletic reporter, that not only with Saliba miss the remainder of this season through injury, but we’d also lose his fellow defensive teammate Oleksandr Zinchenko through a calf strain as well. both are big blows because both have been integral to some of the successes we’ve had this season.
On Saliba, I think most of us assumed it’d be the case that his season was over, because for the last few weeks all we’ve heard is Arteta saying that he is no closer to joining. He has provided an update once or twice saying that there were a few signs of improvement earlier on in his recovery after he picked up the injury, but the message has been the same for the last few weeks and I think deep down we all knew that we were probably unlikely to see him again in the 2022/23 season.
It means that I’d expect Arteta will lean in to Kiwior getting game time for the remainder of the season and from an integration and development perspective that can only be a good thing. He tried to go for experience in the shape of Holding, it didn’t work as teams targeted him with direct runners at him, plus the fact that the rest of the team had to cover for his deficiencies; Partey dropping deeper to collect the ball, White and Gabriel looking a little more shakier and insecure, etc. Kiwior has already provided a little more stability from an on the ball perspective, although he will face another massive test at home to Brighton this weekend that he will have to overcome. And if he does, it will give us more hope for next season, because a good three final games now for Kiwior means that we’ll be looking at next season and thinking that we have a decent amount of squad depth in defence. If Kiwior can continue to prove his value in these last three games, we’ll realistically have five decent centre halves that can cover for two positions; Gabriel, Saliba, White, Tomiyasu and Kiwior. There will still need to be some summer questions asked, but perhaps they are in the full back positions, because Tomiyasu is injury prone and on the left hand side there will need to be some questions too.
That’s because the Zinchenko news to hit us yesterday is pretty gutting too. He’s been great for us this season, but he too has had some injury problems this season that have come at difficult times and impacted our season. Him being out for the remaining three games this season (if the reporting is accurate, which we have no reason to think it won’t be given the source) is huge in terms of our set up, but we have a very good player in Kieran Tierney who can step in and do a good job in his absence. He came on at Newcastle and played really well by all accounts. But given his lack of game time this season, there aren’t many of us who think that he’ll be an Arsenal player for next season. He will want game time and I suspect the club won’t stand in his way. But for now he has a chance to get valuable minutes under his belt.
However, as I said, there are still some doubts over Zinchenko in my mind. From an injury perspective, I mean, because he missed two matches with a knee problem earlier in the season and he missed five games through a calf problem before the World Cup too. If he misses the remaining three Premier League games then he’ll have missed 11 of 38 Premier League games this season – 29% of all the matches we’ve played. I looked at how many Premier League matches he’s missed in the last three seasons and it is 10 last season, 12 the season before, and 22 the season before that. That means that every season he seems to miss at least a quarter of the season, which is a real worry. Given how integral he’s been to the way in which we set up, that is a huge loss for us during the season this season, but it should also have us thinking about how we solve his absence longer term. If Tierney is off and Nuno Tavares unlikely to make a career at Arsenal unless something drastic happens, we’ll need to find a solution at left back because if we’re going to accept missing Zinchenko every season for at least 25% of matches, then we need an answer that will enable must to compete in multiple competitions.
Incidentally, that will also be the number of matches that Saliba has missed this season and by my count that takes us to 123 match days missed by first team squad players this season. I just checked Man City’s injury record; they’ve missed 71 match days so far. Interesting that the media banged on about us and our ‘yeah but what happens when they get injuries?’ jibe, but nobody has asked that same question as City. I’ve even included Cole Palmer in that list, which further inflates their injuries. Liverpool have had the most by a country mile, but that also inlcudes in the numbers the perpetually injured Oxlade-Chamberlain (22 matches), as well as loanee Artur Melo (28 matches), so if you take those out of an already much bigger squad than ours, their numbers are still bad, but not far off us.
Going back to the Zinchenko injury, what will be interesting now is to see what Arteta does. He has previously asked KT to try to do the Zinchenko role and slot in to midfield but we can all see that isn’t comfortable for him and I’m not sure it worked at West Ham or when we’ve played in the cups and KT has played. So to my mind you get him playing as a line-running full back and perhaps drop Xhaka back in to the double pivot. I think we all know that Arteta won’t let on what he’s planning on doing today when he does his press conference, but we’ll know come kick off and the way the team shapes up, just how he’s instructed his team to play.
And that’s yet lot from me for today. Back tomorrow with some post press conference thoughts ahead of another massive Premier League weekend.
Catch you all tomorrow.