Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is likely to be without £35 million talisman Alexis Sanchez for Saturday's second North London derby of the season at White Hart Lane, as he continues to nurse the hamstring strain which forced him to sit out last weekend's 5-0 romp against Aston Villa.
On the surface Sanchez picking up a minor knock seems like an ill-timed stroke of misfortune, but one look at the incredible workload Wenger has placed on his marquee summer signing tells a different story.
Sanchez has played 1420 of a possible 1440 minutes in the Premier League since October, which when coupled with a workload that's already featured 35 games this season for club and country is just asking for trouble.
Wenger under scrutiny
In all honesty Wenger can't say he didn't see the prospect of Sanchez missing a big match through injury coming.
Back on December 5th the Gunners boss was asked about keeping Sanchez fit and firing and insisted he was planning to let the South American starlet enjoy a mid-season mini-break, along the lines of the one Liverpool afforded Raheem Sterling last month.
Here's what Wenger told The Mirror at the time: “He is in the red zone. Unfortunately, you never know how far you can push it. We are not scientific enough to predict that completely, but he has good recovery potential.
“I will have to give him a week break at some stage. I need to give him a breather."
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Winter break has failed to materialise
In the desperate fight to reverse an alarming dip in form over Christmas and the New Year the Frenchman chose to shelve plans to send Sanchez on holiday, a decision which probably delighted a tireless player who is described as nothing short of a workaholic by his team-mates and coaches past and present.
That's fair enough, after all Sanchez is a finely-tuned athlete and there have been plenty of times this season where dropping Arsenal's best player was simply unthinkable.
A third round FA Cup tie at home to Hull City was not one of those occasions though, so quite why the 26-year-old played 84 minutes in that 2-0 remains a mystery.
Has Wenger managed his minutes effectively?
That throwaway 'red zone' comment looks absolutely ridiculous when you look at the way Wenger has used Sanchez since December 5th.
Take a meaningless Champions League dead rubber against Galatasaray out of the equation and he's been rested a grand total of twice since that proclamation, including his absence through injury against Villa last weekend.
Wenger also left Sanchez out of his starting XI for the FA Cup tie against Brighton for a long overdue rest, but still brought him off the bench with 20 minutes to go when Arsenal were winning 3-1.
There's been other occasions this season when Sanchez stayed on the pitch with the game seemingly won, including a 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at the Emirates.
Arsenal were three up in 58 minutes against the Magpies and had Lukas Podokski, Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell all waiting to come off the bench and prove their worth. Despite this Sanchez stayed on the pitch until two minutes from time, which just seems unnecessary.
The famous capitulation at home to Anderlecht in the Champions League tells a similar story when it comes to Sanchez. Arsenal were once again 3-0 up and cruising before the hour mark but made the conscious decision not to give Sanchez a short rest, well before the Belgian underdogs produced their incredible fightback.
Business end of the campaign looms large
Now on the surface a 15-minute spell on the bench here and there may not seem like too big of a deal, particularly when we're talking about a world-class player at his physical peak like Sanchez.
It's part of a wider problem at Arsenal though, with injuries consistently robbing Wenger of the chance to pick his best starting XI all season long.
Gunners fans are perfectly entitled to ask if Wenger is managing his squad effectively in terms of maximising their performances in the matches that matter at the business of the season, and they've been here before.
Olivier Giroud was a prime example last season. Wenger picked his number one striker to play in all but two of their 38 Premier League games, which meant when Arsenal needed goals most in February and March the forward scored in just two out of nine matches.
More often than not Wenger's substitutions often come across as changes that were decided before a match even kicks off, rather than a tactical ploy designed to make a late difference. That makes the insistence on keeping Sanchez, or Giroud last season on the pitch at all costs somewhat surprising, even bordering on negligent.
Awe factor surrounding Sanchez influencing decision
Wenger needs to take a stronger stance with Sanchez, even if means potentially upsetting a player who if he got his way would play every single minute of every single match.
It's all fine and dandy Sanchez training like a man possessed in order to prove he should never be left out, but what good is that to Arsenal in the grand scheme of things if he's available for their biggest matches of the season?
Sanchez has been a runaway success in the Premier League and has 12 goals and seven assists in 21 matches to show for it, but its time for Wenger to think of the long game and put the handbrake on a touch to keep the Gunners fighting on three fronts late into the season.
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