Wenger worried about wear and tear on key performers
Arsenal 1 Fulham 1
Published 28/11/2011 | 05:00
Another small dent has been inflicted on Arsenal's hopes of a top-four finish, but it is the collateral damage to key members of the squad that could yet be of greatest significance.
Worryingly, Arsene Wenger named Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey as being "in the red" and "on the edge" following a tired performance on Saturday that ended their five-game winning streak.
Abou Diaby, who was playing his first Premier League match of the season, also suffered what Wenger hopes is only a minor muscular setback following his long-term absence. Walcott has what Wenger called a "hamstring alert" but he completed 90 minutes and Arsenal are confident that there is no lasting injury.
What is clear, however, is Wenger is now fearing for some of his star players, notably Van Persie, and will make significant changes for tomorrow's League Cup quarter-final against Manchester City.
Wenger will be well aware of his prophetic words the last time he talked of someone being "in the red". On that occasion, he was referring to Jack Wilshere, who promptly suffered a stress fracture to his ankle and is yet to play this season. "We have a few players on the edge like Van Persie and Walcott, who had a hamstring alert, and Ramsey," said Wenger. "We'll have to see how they respond to 24 hours of rest.
"It will be easier for you to pick the Man City team because you can look in the stand and on the bench (against Liverpool) and you will see who plays on Tuesday. We have red alerts on a few players but I will pick as strong a team as I can."
Wenger has generally looked to his academy and reserve team for the League Cup but, with City possessing such strength in depth, there will be a slight adjustment. "I will change my philosophy a little bit," said Wenger. "I've always said that I will play a team that has a chance to qualify. We will give them a game, don't worry."
There is certain to be specific focus on Samir Nasri, who refused to sign a new contract at Arsenal this summer and has more than doubled his wages by moving to City. Wenger has already suggested Nasri's departure came down to money, but he hopes the Arsenal fans do not abuse the France midfielder.
"You want to respect players who have played for us and that's what we expect," said Wenger. "It's always more important to support our team than to be negative with the players from Man City. What is important is that we are united to win the game."
Wenger's concern about the physical state of key players highlights questions over Arsenal's strength in depth, with Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh among the fringe players who were unable to make any impression on Saturday.
What was encouraging, though, was the collective determination to at least salvage a draw after Thomas Vermaelen's own goal.
With Chris Baird epitomising Fulham's resilience, it was left to Vermaelen to atone for his earlier mistake and head home the equaliser. "You can see that we are up for a fight," said Wojciech Szczesny, the Arsenal goalkeeper. "We've got more experienced players this season. We seem like we can come out on top of all the challenges. It's not as beautiful but we got there."
Fulham could feel justifiable satisfaction at the result. Brede Hangeland said: "I thought we looked like the old Fulham with the compact shape and being hard to break down."
Fulham had also benefited from a week off from a Europa League schedule that began in June. "I had 13 days off in the summer so it feels like I've played for a year already," added Hangeland. (© Daily Telegraph, London)