Arsenal crippled by frail defenders
ARSENAL have begun the search for new full-backs after an injury setback for Kieran Gibbs. Arsene Wenger admitted yesterday that he is "starting to look at players" as he faces the New Year with five defenders injured, including all four specialist full-backs.
Wenger is not known for his enthusiasm in the transfer market, but two more pieces of bad injury news may force his hand. Johan Djourou sustained a "mild groin strain" against Manchester City on Sunday, according to Wenger, and the manager admitted to fearing that Djourou will be out for three weeks.
The news is little better with Gibbs, who has not played for two months following hernia surgery. "Kieran Gibbs has unfortunately had a setback and he is not back yet," said Wenger. "It's very disappointing because we had good hope that he would be back for [tonight's League game with Aston Villa], but he is not available."
The prognosis on Gibbs will decide what Arsenal do. "It depends now on Gibbs," Wenger said. "He sees a specialist again today and if something happens there that he has had a real setback then possibly [I will go into the loan market], yes."
Wenger admitted that the search has already begun. "It is not a shop, you just take a good opportunity that is on the market when you can. Overall that's what we are doing at the moment. We are starting to look at players if Gibbs is not back."
Arsenal already have Andre Santos, Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson out injured, forcing them to play centre-backs Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen at full-back. Wenger recognises that this compromises his tactics, as well as leaving the team vulnerable to more injuries in future.
"It's difficult because first of all we have centre-backs who do not like to play at full-back," Wenger said. "We are a team who likes to go forward through the full-backs, so of course, they are in a position where they have to produce different games. That is much more demanding physically. That exposes us even more to injuries, so I try to rotate people - one time right-back, one time centre-back."
Wenger will have to draft a relative outsider into a rather frayed back four. "I can use Sebastien Squillaci, I can use Ignasi Miquel, I can use Francis Coquelin," he said. "Let's be frank and honest, no solution will be ideal because whatever we do, two players will have to play out of position. At the moment we are coping well with it and that's why inside the team we have to work as hard as possible and that we do not suffer in this period."
Despite the injuries, Arsenal's defensive record has been remarkably consistent in recent weeks, conceding just three goals in their last six Premier League games. "If you have improved defensively and kept six clean sheets in the season, nobody would have predicted that after Manchester United [the 8-2 defeat]," he said.
That improvement has led to a strong league showing; Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Manchester City ended an eight-game unbeaten run. "We are a team who wants to respond quickly now and keep our spirit and determination," Wenger said. "Then we have a bright future, but it's important that if we keep that spirit and determination we can go from strength to strength. We are not the same team we were two months ago. In the next two months of course we want to be different again."