The price of glory can be great some times and it was no more great than on Wednesday night at Emirates Stadium. A Sebastien Squillaci header after eight minutes was just enough to secure victory against Stoke City at their most awkward.
The headlines won’t be concentrating on the score however; they will be all over the fact that Theo Walcott has sprained his ankle, missing the Carling Cup final on Sunday, and Cesc Fabregas was withdrawn after a quarter of an hour feeling discomfort in his hamstring – we do not yet know the extent of this injury but the threat is bad enough, what with the next two weeks holding some of the most important fixtures of this season.
Theo Walcott’s injury looks to be more serious and it could well be a damaging loss. Walcott’s pace has become an integral part of Arsenal’s game plan in recent times, his presence on the pitch directly influences the way opposition sides shape up against Wenger’s side and the pressure applied by his forward darts create precious space for Robin Van Persie to work with around the area.
The young Englishman was also anticipated to possibly one of the deciding factors in the game at Nou Camp, where Arsenal’s pace on the counter-attack is seen to be the most effective way of getting out of there with a positive result. Arsenal have other speedy players but there are few in world football who can match Walcott.
We must also consider how damaging this could be on a personal level – it feels like Theo has had to spend most of his short career recovering from one setback after another and the last couple of months injury free have seen, arguably, his best form yet.
We can only hope that this sprained ankle is one of those you would get in the playground and maybe not run about for a few days. After seeing the replay of the clumsy challenge and awkward fall, this hope really is quite vain.
It was pointed out recently that Cesc Fabregas creates, on average, a goal scoring opportunity from open play every 29 minutes and that is the most frequent of any player in the top five leagues in Europe. Upon hearing this, it’s no surprise that Arsenal’s attacking seemed a little blunt when El Capitan was removed as a precaution.
It is not only about creating chances though, Fabregas is so essential to Arsenal’s general play that his removal affects the tempo in general and not just chances on goal. This is highlighted by another stat from this week that said Andrey Arshavin was the joint top in the Premier League for assists, so the fact that he replaced Cesc should mean the Gunners’ attacking potency should not be affected, no?
Well football was never played on paper and Stoke City would be comfortable if it was played on concrete because the aerial bombardment that brought the last half hour saw the ball touch the ground about seven times. It was a stern test for a relatively unknown defensive partnership of Djourou and Squillaci – the last time they played together was the draw with Leeds in the FA Cup and that wasn’t exactly a success.
As it turned out, the aerial bombardment failed and Stoke, amazingly, weren’t very dangerous when having to play with the ball in the ground and Arsenal were looking dangerous from counter-attacks near the end.
Three very important points secured in a tougher than needed to be game against a side that pride themselves on being the very definition of ‘tough’. It isn’t the first time that we have been able wonder whether if this wouldn’t be three points thrown away last season.
Grinding wins punctuating more dominant performances is, historically, a fruitful formula and you can’t really ask for more when your side are attempting to win four trophies. At what price though? The next two weeks will see the squad will be posed possible the toughest questions they have been asked his season and it is coming to make or break time.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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