Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Arsenal's Chances Might Just Be Looking Up.

Arsenal have had their problems with injuries this season, but compared to the climax of last season they are still in a fairly good place injury wise. Few teams could cope without their first choice centre back for almost the entire season, but Arsenal have managed without Thomas Vermaelen since August. When he picked up his injury on international duty the original prognosis was for a ten day turn around, but it's been almost seven months since he last played.

With such an important player missing the spotlight was on the two new summer signings at the centre of defence, as it looked like Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci would take over as the first choice pairing in those positions. There was also the possibility of Johan Djourou playing in that position, but he had missed a whole year through injury. Prior to that missed year he had a career which was injury plagued, and he never really made a place for himself in the Arsenal team. The options for Arsenal were very limited, but one player rose to the challenge and showed exactly how good a player he is.

Djourou made himself first choice in the centre of the Arsenal defence, as he put in one good performance after another. His partnership with Koscielny grew with each passing week, and Vermaelen's absence was barely remembered at times. Koscielny seemed unable to form a good partnership with Squillaci, but Djourou was able to play with either player, and he made himself crucial to Arsenal's chances of winning a trophy for the first time in six years.

At first Arsene Wenger only played him once a week, as he eased him back into the team after his year out. Then at the turn of the year Arsenal found themselves with a very tough January schedule and only two fit centre backs. There was no choice but to play Djourou in every one of those nine games in January, and he rose to the occasion as Arsenal kept their hopes alive on all fronts. The possible return of Vermaelen faded into the background and it seemed the future was bright with Djourou in the team.

The boss chose not to dip into the transfer market in January, with the defence performing well and Vermaelen supposedly not too far from a return. As long as Djourou stayed fit the wait for Vermaelen didn't seem overly important. Things started to go wrong for Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, and that was followed by a Champions League exit to Barcelona. It left Arsenal in a good position in the Premier League and with a tough trip to "Manure" in the FA Cup quarter final.

That game took place last Saturday, and the outcome is well known at this stage, but perhaps the biggest blow for Arsenal was the dislocated shoulder suffered by Djourou in a collision with Bacary Sagna towards the end of the game. The original word from the Arsenal camp was Djourou's season was over, and Arsenal were faced with the Koscielny and Squillaci combination for their last ten games. Arsenal had only conceded six goals in their previous nine league games, and Djourou was not on the pitch when any of those goals went in.
Their chances of winning the league seemed to be fading fast, and they needed some good news on the injury front sooner rather than later. When Djourou went off injured against Newcastle in February Arsenal conceded four goals, and initially their fans feared he would be out for a long spell. The Swiss FA broke the news of his return date, and they were right on the nose with their prediction. This time around more news has emerged from the Swiss FA, and it could be very good news for Arsenal.

According to them Djourou is expected to play for his country on March 26th against Bulgaria. If their prognosis is correct it means Djourou will only miss the Premier League game against West Brom next Saturday, and he will be available for Arsenal's last nine league games. It could be the positive news Arsenal need to get what is left of their season back on track. The club have disputed the claims of the Swiss FA, and have said Djourou will see a specialist on Thursday. After that they expect him to undergo surgery, and miss the rest of the season.

Like the majority of Arsenal fans I'm hoping the Swiss FA know what they're talking about, and Arsenal's medical staff have got it wrong yet again. In the past few years the Arsenal medical team have got their predictions on return dates for players very wrong, and I'm hoping they are completely wrong again. Already this season Djourou came back from what was claimed to be a season ending injury, Robin Van Persie came back three weeks early from his most recent injury, and Samir Nasri has twice recovered ahead of schedule. Added to that there's the ongoing saga of Vermaelen, and his supposed 10 day absence since early September. They are far from infallible, and I'm hoping that's the case yet again.

As it stands Arsenal are without their first two choices in goals for the next six weeks at least, and their fourth choice is injured too. That leaves Manuel Almunia as the only fit goalkeeper at the club, and regular readers will know my thoughts on his abilities between the sticks. To be fair to Almunia he has performed admirably since being called into emergency action against Barcelona, and if he continues to perform so well both Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski will not be missed as much as first thought.

There is the possibility of Arsenal bringing in a replacement goalkeeper, but any player signed must not be under contract at any other club. That leaves very few options for the club, but one name has emerged as a possible surprise re-signing. Jens Leahman was Arsenal's goalkeeper during their invincible season, and he is currently at the club, as he seeks to obtain a coaching bade. According to the player himself, he has agreed to join Arsenal until the end of the season as cover for Almunia, despite the fact he is 41 years old. The one position where a player can still play at that age is in goal, and Leahman is probably mad enough to do just that if he is called upon.

He lost his place to Almunia in the Arsenal team a few years ago, after a couple of high profile mistakes, and he left at the end of that season. Since those days it has taken a lot more mistakes from a goalkeeper for the boss to decide to drop him from the team. During his time at Arsenal Leahman showed himself to be a winner, and Arsenal need a few players with that winning mentality in their squad.

He was never far from the action when he played for Arsenal, as he courted controversy at times. He had a famous run in with Chelsea's Didier Drogba when both players knocked each other over with a feather. Added to that there was his dislike of players standing on his toes at corners which led to quite a few heated rows. He could never be accused of not caring or not giving his all, and if he does come back and end up having to play at some stage I'm certain it will be entertaining.

I was a little pessimistic yesterday about Arsenal's chances of taking the Premier League title this season, but if they can just beat West Brom this Saturday things will hopefully start to look up. There's a two week international break after that game, and I'm hoping to see Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Theo Walcott back in action for the home game against Blackburn on Saturday April 2nd. If the Swiss FA are to believed then Djourou will be available too, and there's even a chance Leahman will be on the bench as well. Would it be too much to hope Vermaelen will be within a week or two of a return at that stage as well, or am I hoping for a miracle.

That's it for today.

Here's a look at Lehmann at his best and most mad too.

See You Tomorrow.

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