Arsenal will head into the weekend’s Premiership encounter with Derby County with as many as six first-team players out with injury. But three of its most important players are raring to go after a fantastic start to the season.
The injury list before the weekend included Jens Lehmann, William Gallas and Emmanuel Eboue but now looks significantly worse with the news that Tomas Rosicky will definitely be out and Philippe Senderos and Alexander Hleb may also not be unavailable. Rosicky, not for the first time this season, strained his hamstring against Sevilla and will be out for at least two weeks, while Senderos and Hleb may also be sidelined with respective hip and knee problems. Despite the team list looking a little thin, manager Arsene Wenger conceded that he may use the game against Derby to rest a few tired legs.
“Hleb is a major doubt because of a kick on his knee. He has liquid on it today so we’ll see how it goes down. Senderos is a doubt with a hip problem. We don’t know how bad that is. I will rotate a little bit to bring in some fresh players. I don’t know [who] yet because that depends on whether Hleb and Senderos will be available.”
While the injuries are undoubtedly annoying, they haven’t exactly come at the worst time. A home game against Derby is about as easy a game as Arsenal are going to get this season and even if the entire first eleven were unavailable I would still be expecting three points. Some people point to the club’s record against the lower teams last season and think that the decision to rotate players is not a smart one, but I think it’s fine. Arsenal are not the same team they were last season and I am confident that whoever gets to play against Derby will give it their all.
The question of who is rested and who will start is a tricky one. As Wenger suggests, a lot depends on whether or not Hleb and Senderos are passed fit to play. My prediction is that they will not be and if that’s the case then I could see Theo Walcott and Gilberto Silva coming in to replace them and Denilson or Abou Diaby starting on the left in place of Rosicky. Of the other players left from the starting team against Sevilla, I can see getting Robin van Persie, who has started every game this season, being rested and Eduardo da Silva getting a start.
Adebayor more focused without Henry
The man Eduardo would play alongside up front against Derby is Emmanuel Adebayor. There were many readers of this blog who suggested that Adebayor’s game time would be limited this season with the arrival of Eduardo, but the big man has taken the chances given to him by Wenger with both hands. Adebayor had some interesting comments to make about his start to the season and the way the strikeforce has had to adapt with the absence of Thierry Henry.
“When Thierry left, guys like me and Robin van Persie knew that we were going to play, so our concentration goes another way. We do not have anyone who we are sure can score 30 goals, so we have to put our heart in the game and do our maximum. The most important thing is the team – if I score 100 goals and we do not win anything, that is rubbish, but I can score 10 goals and we win a lot of things.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Adebayor’s comments is that once he knew Henry was leaving he said that his concentration increased. Whether that means he lacked concentration last season or not is now irrelevant, because it seems to me that he has now realised that the responsibility is on his shoulders. He needed to step up to the challenge and so far this season he has delivered. Adebayor’s strike partner Robin van Persie was also in a vocal mood after the Sevilla game, talking about the culture and team spirit at the club.
“I love doing stuff together. This is a unique team in Europe. We are unique because, as we say in Holland, the nose is pointed at the same direction. When you come to Arsenal, like me, I was a bit of an individual. But the boss taught me slowly how to play together and that you get more out of your career when you work together. I know everyone is thinking the Arsenal way and that can make a big difference as well. Not many teams are playing the way we play.”
To me, this sums up exactly why it is a pleasure to support Arsenal under the management of Wenger. When van Persie arrived at Arsenal he was a troublesome young man with a very self-centred attitude and to hear this sort of comment for him is just wonderful. When you see this picture of the side after the Sevilla game you can really see how much they love playing together in the same side and it’s really showing out on the pitch. As van Persie says, there are not many teams playing the way Arsenal are playing right now.
The unified direction of the squad this season is perhaps captured best by the performances of Mathieu Flamini. Before the start of the season Flamini publicly declared that he wanted to leave the club because of a lack of opportunity but he’s been one of the key ingredients in the club’s positive start. Flamini played as well as I’ve ever seen against Sevilla midweek in his preferred position as a tackling midfielder alongside Cesc Fabregas. Understandably, he is absolutely delighted with the opportunities he has been given after making the tough decision to stay.
“I like to play in midfield because it’s my natural position and I always enjoy to play there. But when I have to play for the team at right back I am trying to do my best. It is important to teach players to play everywhere. For example, Michael Essien at Chelsea is asked to play right back and he plays there. If I am picked to play I play, if not it’s not a problem. The boss makes the decision and I respect his decision.”
Again, as a supporter of the club, this is great to hear. I have always had a lot of respect for Flamini and it’s great to see him getting the opportunities his effort has deserved. I’ve mentioned previously that the Frenchman is a vital cog in the Arsenal team and what I consider to be the perfect squad player. With Gilberto set to start in defence against Derby again this weekend it will give Flamini another chance to build on his partnership with Cesc Fabregas. And that can only be a good thing.
What do you think?
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