11 March 2014

Mesut Özil out for "a few weeks" with a hamstring injury.

Well, dammit. To add insult to injury, perhaps literally, Mesut Özil will be out with a serious hamstring problem. He was subbed off at halftime and never looked like he was quite in the game. According to Arsène, "the German specialist [Bayern's club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt] told me it was quite bad...he'll be out for a least a few weeks. There's a scan tomorrow." Add it to the list of injuries to key players—a season-long epidemic that has stripped us of players like Ramsey, Walcott, Ox, Podolski, Wilshere, and now Özil for extended periods. Add in other injuries such as those to Diaby, Sanogo, Källström, Bendtner, Gibbs, and Monreal, plus any number of short-term injuries that have deprived us of any number of other players all season, and it's a wonder that we're still in as strong a shape as we are. Yes, we've been dumped from the Champions League, ironically by a squad that feigns injuries almost as often as we've suffered real ones, but we're still clinging to hope in the Prem and very much alive in the FA Cup. Still, the injury to Özil comes as a harsh blow as the midfield, once an area of depth and font of skill, is looking more and more thread-bare.

Injuries never come at a good time, but between this one and the one to Wilshere, the difficult stretch of fixtures that include trips to White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge, a visit from Man City, and then a trip to Goodison Park, looks almost impossible to get through. Even before the loss to Stoke, it looked like we would need to take maximum points from this stretch. Now, without Wilshere or Özil, it looks very much like our path to the top of the Prem may have reached a dead-end, unless the return of Ramsey and the debut of Källström can make up for the set-backs.

Like the red-card to Szczesny in the first leg against Bayern, we may be left asking ourselves, "what if..." What if we had been closer to full-strength on Tuesday against them? What if we had been closer to full-strength, never mind at full strength, going into the final run-in? We've known for a long time that we're thinner than Chelsea or City and are therefore least-equipped to weather a storm of injuries, yet here we are. If there's a silver lining, it's in knowing that we've kept it together as well as we have in spite of the injuries and the seemingly innumerable player-games lost. Still, there's some fight left us in still. Each time a player has gone down, someone else has found a way to step up. Rather than lament the loss of Özil, the Pangloss in me looks to the chance it gives to Ox or Gnabry to seize a chance. That doesn't feel like reckless optimism; it feels like enough to keep us in the thick of the Prem title-chase and more than enough to fight for the FA Cup.