06 March 2014

One league where we're comfortably top of the table...

Can the injury-tally grow any more? With news that Jack Wilshere will now be out for at least six weeks, we may set a record for player-games missed to injury. It certainly looks as if we'll finish the season with the most games missed, and that was before Wilshere went down. After 29 matches, we're top of the table in the Injury League with 219 player-games missed. The gap between us and second place is immense—Man U lags behind at 156 player-games missed. It's a cruel irony then that a team already as deep as Chelsea is near the bottom of the table with only 81; only Southampton (76) and Cardiff (51) have missed fewer. What kind of world do we live in in which a team like Stoke, notorious for inflicting grievous harm on other players, has only missed 86 games? It's a cold, cruel world indeed, and it seems as if the dark forces of the universe are arrayed against us. Dodgy refereeing. Ludicrous draws in various cup competitions. Injury after injury after injury. Hang it all, I say.

Of course, we've swollen our numbers a bit with the likes of Abou Diaby, Yaya Sanogo, and a few other long-termers, of course, but the pervasiveness of injuries on its own would probably be enough to keep us in the top four. Aside from a few stalwarts, it's hard to find a position that hasn't been affected by injuries. Center-back, for one, has been blessedly injury-free—assuming that the issue that kept Kos out of France's friendly dissipates soon. Keeper, not bad. Forward, ironically, has been limited almost in spite of injury as Giroud heroically and stoically plodded along without rest or injury while waiting for Sanogo and Bendtner to heal up and get fit. The midfield, of course, has been decimated. Diaby. Walcott. Podolski. Ox. Ramsey. Wilshere. The list goes on.

It frustrates me to no end. I'm not referring to questions like "is it the trainer's fault?" or "doesn't this prove that we need more rotation?" or "why didn't we sign more players"? or "why the hell do friendlies exist?" It's more to the point to ask why such matches are called friendlies when a player can go in as recklessly as Agger did on Wilshere. Crappy first touch, Danny-boy. Don't make matters worse with a sloppy tackle. Moron. Breathing new life into the term oxymoron—is it a "friendly" fracture that Jack suffered? Or is it a case of "can't beat 'em, maim 'em?"

Back to the frustration to which I alluded. I'm just as guilty of the following feeling as anyone else—learning of Wilshere's injury has thrown Gooners into a tailspin, convincing us that there is in fact a conspiracy (something I poked fun at here) to keep Arsenal from winning anything this year. Finding out that Wilshere is all but done for the season—because why bother playing him in the last four or five matches even if he is ruled fit to play?—has somehow proven that the conspiracy is real, and Hodgson and Agger are either in on it or unwitting pawns in a larger chess-match. From what I can tell of ol' Roy, I suspect the latter.

Instead of ruing the hand we've been dealt, though, I hope the lads look 'round the locker room, size each other up, and realize that the run-in depends on them and them alone. There will be no help from referees or doctors, no mercy shown by Bayern or Chelsea or Liverpool (Agger, I'm looking squarely at you). Shorn of Wilshere, Walcott, and Diaby for the rest of the season, but looking to the returns of Kos and Monreal by Saturday, and the returns of Ramsey and Källström, it's high-time to resurrect the spirit that was such a part of the early season. Fueled by success, this squad drew strength from each member and became something greater than the sum of its parts. Despite the limitations, exacerbated by the injuries, we found a way through the UCL Group of Death and to the top of the Prem. Seeing teammates fall need not erode that spirit. Each time, after all, someone else has risen to the call, whether it's been scoring goals, filling in at unfamiliar positions, or doing the dirty work so that someone else gets the highlight-reel moment, we've seen this squad dig in and rally against the odds before.

It would be easy to interpret Wilshere's injury as a nail in a coffin, or a window of opportunity slamming shut. We've already been written off in the Champions League and Prem, but that just means we can play like a team with nothing to lose. Pressure's off, as few expected us to succeed in the fixtures to come even at full-strength. Wilshere may have been struggling for form in recent weeks, and and his injury may be a blessing in disguise, but the symbolism of his injury is open to interpretation. The early returns focus on how this proves that we don't have what it takes. My take on the matter is that it will reveal a depth of resiliency, pride, and resolve in the rest of the squad, even to invigorate rather than enervate, and that those who take up the banner that Wilshere can no longer wave, save from the sidelines, will show the doubters that there's fight in this squad still. They'll assume that we're teetering and on the ropes, but it's just the set-up for the ol' rope-a-dope. We've taken some blows and look to be on our last feet, but that's the prelude to us fighting back and landing a few knock-out blows instead.

First up, Everton.