Monday 23 September 2019

Coquelin's injury piles on woes for worried Wenger

West Brom 2-1 Arsenal

Arsene Wenger: 'It is a difficult moment for us, yes. We have to come back quickly and focus. It is severe disappointment, we want to bounce back'
Arsene Wenger: 'It is a difficult moment for us, yes. We have to come back quickly and focus. It is severe disappointment, we want to bounce back'

John Percy

Arsene Wenger's preparations for Arsenal's vital Champions League tie tomorrow have sustained further damage amid fears that Francis Coquelin faces a lengthy absence with a knee ligament injury.

Wenger's injury-ravaged squad face Dinamo Zagreb, acutely aware that a victory is paramount as they battle to avoid the humiliation of being knocked out at the group stage.

Coquelin left the Hawthorns on crutches after he was substituted following a 50-50 challenge with West Bromwich Albion's Claudio Yacob, and the early prognosis is ligament damage, which would be a blow to Arsenal's season.

Wenger must also plan without Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky.

With only one win from their past five matches, Arsenal's season is threatening to unravel quickly and Wenger's mood was as dark as the Black Country night sky on Saturday evening after another chastening experience against Tony Pulis.

After a game that finished with a comical penalty miss from Santi Cazorla, Wenger sorely needs a rapid response as he bids to reach the Champions League knockout stages for the 16th successive season.

"It is a difficult moment for us, yes. We have to come back quickly and focus. It is severe disappointment, we want to bounce back," he said.

"In the last two games we took one point out of six and that is very difficult and very disappointing when you are on such a great run.

"Now we cannot change it and the only thing we can do is bounce back on Tuesday night. It looks difficult, I believe, to have players come back for that game.

"I can rotate a bit within the squad but Ramsey will be short and Oxlade-Chamberlain will be short and they are the two closest."

Arsenal appeared poised for a comfortable afternoon when Olivier Giroud headed them in front but the momentum swung dramatically in Albion's favour after James Morrison's equaliser and an Arteta own goal.

Cazorla's miss from the spot six minutes from time, with the midfielder slipping over and then slicing the ball over the crossbar, was a fitting footnote to an uncomfortable afternoon.

The Gunners missed a hatful of chances, mainly in the second half, but Wenger was especially vexed by his team's defending - not least about how they failed to deal with Chris Brunt's free-kick into the box for Morrison's equalising goal.

Arsenal have only won once away to a team managed by Pulis and with their lack of defensive focus and killer touch, it was hard to escape the feeling that we have been here many times since that last title win in 2004.

"I don't deny that," admitted Wenger afterwards when it was put to him that this was Arsenal stumbling on the kind of terrain that always seems to trouble them the most.

"We became a bit too easy at 1-0 [ahead] despite the experience we have in the squad. I could feel that, instead of pushing on, we became vulnerable."

Pulis, by contrast, could take satisfaction from the defensive resilience of his Albion players as well as a "superb" display by James McClean who gave the Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin an awkward afternoon. At the same time, he admitted Albion needed "a little bit of luck" to claim only their second home league win over Arsenal since 1973.


"We've not had that run of the ball in games and we've had that today," Pulis said.

"They are a very good side and this season they've got as good a chance as they've had maybe for 10 years to win the title."

This was West Brom's second home win this season and was timely for Pulis, who has been the focus of much scrutiny from supporters in recent weeks.

Pulis finds himself in familiar territory at the Hawthorns, the centre of a debate scarily similar to his final season at Stoke.

Fans are split between having a manager who virtually guarantees Premier League survival by employing pragmatism, at the expense of entertainment.

Jonas Olsson, recalled to the team, admitted he cannot understand the negativity.

He said: "Someone says there needs to be a balance between results and entertainment but for the players it's 100 per cent about the results.

"He is a good manager, he came in last year and is still building a squad. To take over you have to adapt to the players you've got and the way we play now suits us. It's as simple as that."

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