International double-headers can be deceptive. The first set of matches can pass with players seemingly unscathed, but in reality national managers are unwilling to release details of small niggles, due to their wish to continue playing their stars three or four days later. Only once the second game comes to a close do the details come out.
Once again, our players have gone on a two week break and returned depleted. Walcott, in sparkling form at the start of the season, is out for a month or more, while Vermaelen picked up a mystery Achilles injury at some point and misses today’s clash with Bolton. Add in Van Persie’s six week layoff and some crucial figures are once again missing.
Like so often, we are top of the PhysioRoom injury list.
However, it is not at the stage where we can or should use it as an excuse. Yes, we have injuries, and yes, some of the first names on the teamsheet are absent, but what is often missed is how big a squad we have these days. Take a look at the likely bench today (Denilson, Nasri, Wilshere, Eboue, Djourou) and it doesn’t suggest a club down to the bare bones.
Van Persie and Bendtner are injured, yet Chamakh is still available to lead the line, flanked by Arshavin and Rosicky. Vermaelen’s absence means that the impressive Koscielny will partner Squillaci, a player deemed good enough to keep the fit-again Djourou out of the side. I feel for the Swiss defender – last season he was supposed to challenge Gallas and Vermaelen for a first team spot, now he’s in the fourth choice role previously occupied by Silvestre. It does, however, give you some indication of how many options we have.
In the middle of the park, our strength in depth is staggering. Cesc, Song and Diaby are the likely starters today, the latter coming off a sparkling international performance. Ramsey is obviously out, but as I pointed out above, Denilson, Nasri, Wilshere and Eboue are a handy set of options.
It is truly a myth that we have a small squad – we don’t. In a way, the ridiculous number of injuries over the past couple of years has forced us to blood players early, and we are now reaping the benefit. When everyone is fit in any position on the field (except in goal, of course), our bench looks frightening and you start wondering how certain players can get into the team. I haven’t even mentioned Vela, Gibbs or JET yet.
Overall, we should have far too much for Bolton today. Kevin Davies will pose a threat to our inexperienced central defensive pairing, but despite Owen Coyle’s love of expansive football, he will probably find himself isolated up front as pragmatism kicks in. But sitting back against us hasn’t worked in two years, and I expect us to win by a couple of goals.
With all the doom and gloom surrounding the lack of a new goalkeeper, it is easy to miss that we’ve made a great start to the season. Liverpool and Blackburn away have yielded four points, and we destroyed Blackpool. So forget the injuries, look at our squad, see the potential for real and tangible success, and enjoy the game.
Here’s to three points.