Why injuries DO make the difference by John Velez
For those who will either: skim through this, take it out of context, or not even read it, before going into attack mode in the comments for it being a supposedly pro Arteta article, I have added this prefix just for you guys – WE HAD A BAD JANUARY TRANSFER, AND IT WAS THE FAULT OF ARTETA AND THE BOARD. I hope that is clear and concise enough!
Barring a miracle in the final round of league fixtures, Arsenal will miss out on the Champions League this season. Although I do not miss the CL, it would have been very useful at this point in our rebuild, in regards to signing our first choice targets, along with the extra finances.
So what happened? We were performing well, winning lots of games, Arsenal and Arteta were the talk of the town, then a sudden drop off in performances, but more importantly, results. Well it couldn’t have been our poor January transfer window because the window was closed at that point, and we had been doing very well.
The main issue affecting our top four hopes was key injuries at a key point in the season. Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but almost any team would suffer with medium/long-term injuries to key players, especially at the back end of a season when you cannot sign replacements. City and PSG are probably the only exemption to the rule, given the abundance of talent they have two or three times over in some positions.
For the rest of us, key injuries will derail most teams. Pickford has been in unbelievable form of late, and Richarlison has been vital upfront for Everton. Take either one of those out, or even both for the last couple of months, and I expect they could have already been relegated.
In relation to Arsenal, would Spurs currently be in 4th if Kane had missed the last few months? Would Spurs even be in the top 6 if both Kane and Son were injured for a while? Spurs had a far better January transfer window than us, no key injuries, and yet are only a couple of points ahead of us.
Of course it’s subjective, no one can predict results based on who is or isn’t available, but if we hadn’t had so many key injuries, I highly suspect we would have covered that 2 point gap to Spurs, and much more to boot, irrespective of what happened in January.
To highlight the importance of key players, just think of Norwich vs Spurs this weekend. We need Spurs to lose, which is highly unlikely. Now if Son and Kane were missing for that fixture, suddenly we all feel a lot more confident. Probably still wouldn’t happen given how terrible Norwich are, but no doubt Spurs’ chances of victory would be severely lessened. Conte suddenly would have a huge problem on his hands.
For certain positions, we could have covered injuries without a big loss in quality. E.g. ESR would come in for Martinelli/Odegaard, Elneny for Xhaka, Leno for Ramsdale, an inform Pepe for Saka, and so on. But for certain positions, we couldn’t afford major injuries, and that’s what happened. Losing a key player is very difficult to cover for.
The drop off in quality between Tierney and Tavares is astronomical! Partey is our only genuine world class player, who would also walk into ANY top team, and Elneny and Lokonga are lightyears away from his level. Losing Tomiyasu for something like 3 or 4 months was a massive blow as well, with Cedric being our only backup. To lose both your full-backs and your main central midfielder all at the same time, has had a massive effect on the way we play as well!
This is also nothing new at Arsenal. Just think of how many campaigns under Wenger were derailed because of key injuries. Even the same happened to Emery. He finished 5th only 2pts off 3rd place, with a crippling injury list. He had 3 season ending injuries at around the halfway point that season, along with lots of other shorter injuries to deal with. Like with Arteta, we definitely would have qualified for the Champions League under Emery if it wasn’t for so many injuries.
Of course, it’s not to say we didn’t have a bad January, because we did! We let too many leave, and signed no one! That is on Arteta and the board. If we had kept AMN and signed at least a quality DM/CM or striker, we could have coped with the injuries better, although, like with the injuries, it would still be subjective as to whether or not any new signings would have meant better results.
January has definitely played a role this season, and should be part of the conversation of where did it go wrong for us? I am merely pointing out that whilst everyone under the sun keeps mentioning our transfer activity, barely anyone is talking about the negative effect of losing so many key players at such a key point of the season. As I have already pointed out, even with these injuries, we’re only 2pts off Spurs with one game to play. That says to me, we would have finished 4th, possibly even 3rd, regardless of January, if it wasn’t for so many injuries.
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