Arsenal went back to the top of the Premier League table this evening with a 3-1 win over Stoke City on match day 15. With almost half of the Premier League season played, Arsenal are in a good position to top the league over the festive period, but we will be wary of Chelsea who are yet to play this week’s fixture.
It was a tense affair at the Emirates at times, with the referee being the subject of much of the shouting. After going 1-0 down to a Charlie Adam penalty, there was lots for the Gunners to do, but a strong finish to the first 45 and then a attacking second half dissolution meant that Arsenal came out on top.
There were a few negatives taken from the match in Arsenal’s perspective. Xhaka’s action for the penalty was missed by many fans at the Emirates, but subsequent reviews suggest that the Swiss midfielder needs a word about his behaviour. Aside from that, whilst the Gunners were pleased about the return of Hector Bellerin to the side, it was a sorry sight to see Shkodran Mustafi be forced off with an injury.
The defender, who remains unbeaten as an Arsenal player when he’s been on the pitch, is at the top of his game right now and has slotted in comfortably at the heart of defence. Mustafi has brought more reliance to the defence and seems to have built a strong long standing defensive partnership with Laurent Koscielny. To think that the player could now be ruled out for a number of weeks with an injury would be a real concern. Hopefully it’s nothing more than precautionary measure.
If the injury is going to rule the player out for quite some time, Arsene Wenger does of course have various options at centre back to replace the German. Gabriel has been impressive in recent weeks at right back and could deserve a start in his preferred position at centre back. Wenger also has Rob Holding at his disposal, who despite having a lack of experience, is a very promising player for the Gunners. And on the bright side we have Mustafi’s fellow German, Per Mertesacker, very close to full fitness, and although he has been slagged off in the past he still has a brilliant record when played as Koscielny’s partner.
What is a little worrying is that Wenger thought that Mustafi had a problem last week.This is what Wenger said after the game about Mustafi’s injury: “It’s a bad one. He had nothing in midweek. I would not have played him today (if he had). I had Hector Bellerin on the bench. I could have played Holding or Gabriel. He wanted to play in Basel, because he said ‘no it’s nothing’, and it was completely clear. I checked three times and there was no problem for. I don’t know why it happened, but it looks a ‘good’ hamstring strain.
“Look, the minimum when you go out like that is 21 days. After that, today is December 10, so you are 21 days, that means he’ll have a nice Christmas!”
Losing Mustafi for an extended period of time would be a big loss to the Gunners, as he has really strengthened our defensive capabilities, but now we have the depth in the squad with Holding, Gabriel and Mertesacker I’m sure we can carry on our great run. Let’s hope the Arsenal centre back isn’t too badly injured and that he’s fit and ready to play in the New Year, when the title fight will become more intense and we need to be confident for our assault on the Champions League, but we have a deep and talented squad and should really be able to live without just one player shouldn’t we?