The hits just keep on coming for Arsenal. After the news that Alexis Sanchez will miss the next few weeks with a hamstring problem, reports are now surfacing suggesting that Santi Cazorla’s condition could be worse. The latest word is that the Spaniard could well be out until March having sustained ligament damage in the 1-1 draw with Norwich.
That would be a huge blow to Arsenal, who’ve already lost Cazorla’s preferred midfield partner, Francis Coquelin, to a similar injury. The Gunners have managed to cope relatively well without the likes of Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck, as neither man would have been a guaranteed starter this season. Coquelin and Cazorla, however, are at the very heart of this side.
It’s almost exactly a year ago that Arsene Wenger stumbled upon that unlikely pairing.
Coquelin had been on loan at Championship Charlton, while Cazorla had been floated infield from a peripheral role on the flank. Neither player was perceived as capable of coping in the centre of a Premier League midfield, yet together they flourished. Their pairing was an alchemic reaction that produced a beautifully balanced midfield partnership.
Wenger clearly believes their combination has been integral to his team. Aaron Ramsey, who won Arsenal’s Player of the Season award in 2013/14 as a marauding central midfielder, has been forced out to the right wing in order to accommodate Cazorla and Coquelin. They set the tempo for the Gunners—Coquelin the bullish ball-winner, Coquelin the playmaking matador.
That’s out the window now. Wenger must go back to the drawing board to construct a midfield that will take Arsenal through until the spring. The transfer market will open in January, but Wenger will surely stick to type and look first for an internal solution.
Ramsey may hold the key. This, surely, is a chance for him to re-establish himself in the middle.
In 2013 he formed an effective deep-lying partnership with Mikel Arteta. Wenger might be tempted to reprise their relationship, were it not for Arteta’s persistent calf problems. It’s now more likely that Ramsey will be deployed alongside Mathieu Flamini, who is arguably a more direct replacement for Coquelin anyway.
In the short term, Flamini and Ramsey are likely to be asked to hold the fort, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepping up to cover the right flank. However, within the next month or so Wenger may have another intriguing option at his disposal: Jack Wilshere.
During his most recent injury lay-off, Wilshere has been quoted saying he believes his best position to be as a deep-lying midfielder.
In some respects, his style is the most analogous with that of Cazorla: he shares the quick feet and eye for a pass that make the Spaniard so special. With Mesut Ozil having made the No. 10 spot his own, this more defensive role is surely the one Wilshere must succeed in if he is win a regular place in the Arsenal team.
Wenger has long sought for a way to include Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil in the same Arsenal side. This injury crisis may yet offer it to him.
Read more from James McNicholas, AKA @gunnerblog