Monday 22 January 2018

Gunners down to their bare bones for crunch matches

Arsenal 1 Tottenham 1

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere is tackled by Tottenham Hotspur's Ryan Mason and Etienne Capoue
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere is tackled by Tottenham Hotspur's Ryan Mason and Etienne Capoue
Tottenham Hotspur's Danny Rose and Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arsenal's Per Mertesacker reacts after his side concede their first goal

Jeremy Wilson

Arsene Wenger will have two priorities when he leads his players out for training at around 10.30am today ahead of a week that could potentially define the club's season.

The first, and most urgent, will be to decide what sort of patched-up central midfield he can field on Wednesday in the Champions League against Galatasaray and then at Chelsea on Sunday.

There are fears that Aaron Ramsey's hamstring injury is sufficiently serious for him to be facing more than a month out, while Mikel Arteta will not be back before Arsenal's match against Hull City on October 18 after limping off with a hamstring strain in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Tottenham.

Add in the potential loss of Jack Wilshere, whose right ankle will be assessed today, and the injury crisis that Arsenal have been managing in defence has spread to the centre of their midfield.

Mathieu Flamini's limitations in possession were again exposed on Saturday when he lost the ball in the build-up to Nacer Chadli's goal but he is regarded by Wenger as the only option. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky, Francis Coquelin and Abou Diaby would have to provide the cover.

Wenger did note that the "remarkable" Calum Chambers would be an option before acknowledging that he has only four fit defenders. It means that Chambers is already both the first-choice right-back and the only senior centre-back cover.

The Frenchman will also be conducting further analysis into why his squad still seem so susceptible to injuries, with the muscular injuries to Arteta and Ramsey of particular concern after they were rested from the League defeat against Southampton last week.

"We have to really analyse what happened," Wenger said. "There's no logic as they had quite a light week for them."

Set-pieces have rarely seemed of greatest concern to Wenger but his other big priority will be the corner-taking of his players. Arsenal had 15 on Saturday - of which nine were delivered by Mesut Ozil - and Wenger believes that should have been sufficient for at least one goal.

"That's an area we can make a big improvement and that has to happen quite quickly," he said. "If you go anywhere in the world and have 15 corners against you the ball goes into the net. It' so difficult to defend if you deliver the ball properly. On Monday we will be practising corners."

The importance of this week's fixtures is already underlined by the respective league tables. Chelsea could establish what would be a daunting nine-point lead over Arsenal if they win on Sunday while anything other than a positive result against the Turkish side would further threaten the Gunners' target of qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League for a 15th successive season.

Even after conceding again on the counter-attack against Spurs, Oxlade-Chamberlain is certain that there will be no major adjustment this week to Arsenal's usual style of play.

"I think that's the risk you take when you play the way we play football," he said. "We send a lot of bodies football in a positive and attacking fashion. You do leave yourself at times a little bit vulnerable to the counter-attack.

"As a team we do work on trying to stop that at source. But you can't have everything. We try to take control of games, we like to set the tempo, be positive.

"The Champions League is a really important game, we want to bounce back from the disappointing result in Dortmund. Then looking forward to the Premier League we do understand what happened at Chelsea last season. Maybe we have got a point to prove there. We have got to step up in the big games.

"We will definitely give Chelsea the respect they deserve but, at the same time, I have belief in my team-mates and in ourselves to be able to go to a place like Chelsea and set the tempo and hopefully take control of the game."

Arsenal certainly set the tempo on Saturday, although whether they were in control of the game is more questionable. They had 69pc of possession but created few chances until Oxlade-Chamberlain's equaliser, with Younes Kaboul and Hugo Lloris especially influential for Spurs.

Mauricio Pochettino believes that Kaboul has grown with the responsibility of captaincy and said that Lloris, who made one breathtaking save to deny Per Mertesacker, was now up with Germany's Manuel Neuer among the world's best goalkeepers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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