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By Ibrahima Fode NDIAYE
After one third of the season gone, lessons can be learned and remarks can be made.
The biggest lesson is injuries can wreck any team’s form. Indeed we have seen a Chelsea team that looked unbeatable with the A team, going through a relegation form without the centre back pairing and a couple of missing midfielders.
The first signal came when a depleted Newcastle United got the best of the west London outfit in their Stamford Bridge Stadium in the league cup. The pundits didn’t dwell on it as usual, but it was alarming that a Chelsea side with Terry, Obi Mikel, Anelka, Malouda, Benayoun, Saloum Kalou, Sturridge etc could concede 4 goals to Newcastle at home.
And later when they lost Alex and Terry at the back as well as Lampard and Essien in the middle they don’t seem strong anymore. The sad thing is instead of coming out and saying the Chelsea squad is thin and not good enough outside the first 15 players, pundits are talking about Wilkins and Abrahamovich and potatoes and eggs.
And while Manchester United haven’t lost yet a game of football, they have thrown up leads of two goals in injury times, they too got caught up with two goal leads. Their away form is poor – and although they came good in the last game against Blackburn, there is still a lot to prove.
When injuries piled up relatively on Barcelona, they lost at home to Hercules, drew twice in the champions league and had a drastic home form in the liga. And during that period they almost only lost Xavi Hernandez.
In Italy, Inter Milan with injuries from Cambiasso, Maicon, Julio Cesar et al looked at times like a pub team while Bayern are paying a heavy price without his star players in the Bundesliga.
So this means the injuries Arsenal have been suffering down the years, would have the same if not worse effects on any given top team. The truth is, it’s always ok to slip up here and there during these parts of the season but in the final third if you are not more competitive than the rest, you can’t win a major trophy.
Last year we lost key players during that part. I hear Americans use the phrase “money time” in their sports, and I think that’s the right term. We have been decimated in the money time by injuries. I remember 2007-08, when we lost Bakary Sagna and Rosicky two of the most important players during the title push which resulted in us losing the title and to Liverpool in the CL. Last year we lost Gallas, Vermaelen, Cesc, Song, Ramsey, Van Persie, Walcott, Arshavin etc in that crucial part of the season so we lost to Barcelona in the CL and the EPL title.
I believe knowing the impact of injuries in a squad Wenger has been working hard to fight luck by building a squad that could face the severest of injury pile up. At the start of the season Vermaelen and Koscielny were being built to be the starting CB and Squilacci and Djourou have helped enormously and have looked better or equal to any CB pairing out there.
Song is quite another CB with Nordveit also coming through. For the full backs we have two very good ones at each position with Gibbs pushing Clichy so strongly you would think with a bit of luck the French could see himself on the bench and Eboue being the truly best cover of a right back in world football.
Also although he is still out at the moment, Vermaelen is accustomed to playing left back so is Djourou to right back. In the middle we have so many players we could field an entire side of central midfielders : Cesc, Song, Diaby, Denilson, Wilshere, Ramsey, Frimpong, Eastmond, Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin etc.
We are not lacking in forward positions either with Van Persie, Chamakh, Vela, Bendtner, Walcott, JET, Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky all having played one of the three forward positions. That’s a hell of a squad by any standard. No wonder the boss calls it his best ever.
Another lesson being learned by everybody is the need to rush towards youth. Sir FWord has stressed it’s the way forward so did the Italian Loti from West London, hell even Malouda is on it. Unluckily for all of them they are joining the master who is way ahead of them in youth project and young squads.
The finance is getting tight on every club bar the aristocratic cats of Espana and the Light blue of the Arabic desert but with the UEFA financial regulation even these two clubs may find it hard to keep on spending large transfer fees and large wages. So all the big bad “sugar daddy” boys are trying to build a self sustainable plan. No need to remind everyone here the financial problems of Liverpool, or the Manchester-Glazers finances or even Barcelona not being able to pay player wages.
Ibrahima Fode NDIAYE
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