Arsenal 2 (Arshavin 26, Ramsey 79) Stoke 0
When news filtered through that Eduardo had picked up a knock before the game, it became apparent that despite having started the season with such an abundance of forwards that switching to 4-3-3 still left plenty in reserve, we were now down to Carlos Vela. With the Mexican rested after putting in a full shift against City in the Carling Cup, we played without a striker for the first time I can remember since the George Graham days.
The man asked to step up and become the figurehead against a physical Stoke side was an unlikely choice. Arshavin is not only our most diminutive player, but his morale has been through the floor recently as he saw his final chance of appearing in a World Cup disappear. But the Russian is tougher than he looks, has a fleetness of foot and a sense of balance that allows him crucial seconds to evade his lumbering opponents and on Saturday, he was at his electric best, causing havoc with intelligent runs, turns and mesmerising skill on the ball.
After causing Delap to clumsily bring him down to win a penalty that Cesc had saved by Sorensen, he got his reward, taking a pass from the captain before bouncing off two defenders and calmly slotting into the corner. He continued to threaten, forcing another decent stop from Sorensen before striking the bar in the second half, and eventually played a big part in the second goal, finished with aplomb by Ramsey.
In between, Cesc had seen a goalbound shot blocked by Eboue, and Nasri also forced the keeper into action. 2-0 was the least we deserved, but after the run we’ve had any three points would have been snatched with a mixture of glee and relief.
But once again, it was at a cost. Rosicky never emerged for the second half, picking up a groin injury that rules him out of a busy period of games. Wenger had this to say:
“Tomas is devastated and I am as well. Before today I thought ‘he has played the whole game Wednesday night, do I take the gamble or not?’ Because it was such an important game I took the gamble and at half-time it backfired so it is very disappointing.”
And therein lies the problem. People ask why injuries happen in clutches but that paragraph is part of your answer. Had the whole squad been fit, no risk would have been necessary – Rosicky would not have played, and he would not now be injured. But because resources are stretched, players are being asked to put their bodies through more, and we’re paying the price.
Rosicky was not the only one – Eboue, Traore and Gallas all picked up injuries, taking our walking wounded tally to 12 (the other eight being Van Persie, Djourou, Eduardo, Gibbs, Clichy, Diaby, Walcott and Bendtner). For all the bleating of some teams about injuries (here’s looking at you Liverpool), we certainly are suffering more than most. There are others – United’s defence crisis is borderline ridiculous right now, and Everton have had a season of trying to fill a bench.
But it is something we will have to cope with over the coming weeks. Wednesday night’s game against Olympiakos is likely to see the eleven penned to play Liverpool at the weekend rested, and when you add that to twelve injuries you get a very young and experimental side. That’s the beauty of qualifying early.
Liverpool will be resting players too, of course, because they are already out of the competition, and it is certainly a timely boost to have Arshavin back in form ahead of a trip to Anfield. Something tells me that, after last year, they may be a little wary of him.