Injuries denying Wenger a chance to tap into Arsenal's potential
The biggest frustration for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is whether he will ever get the full potential out of his Arsenal squad, and it is not because of poor performances or out-of-form players amid a run of inconsistent form. It's worth noting that Arsenal have yet to string together a run of three consecutive wins in the Premier League this season.
It's more down to the fact that Wenger must be scratching his head and wondering whether he will ever get to pick his first XI, let alone a fully fit squad. Just when Arsenal thought they were making strides forward in terms of getting players back, they go and get another injury.
This time it is Mathieu Debuchy who is facing a spell on the sidelines with a dislocated shoulder. So that means either Calum Chambers or Hector Bellerin will get a run at right-back.
It's no reflection on Chambers or Bellerin, but the fact is that Arsenal signed Debuchy to replace Bacary Sagna and the Frenchman has hardly got going this season because of an ankle injury and now this dislocated shoulder.
It all seemed so needless when Stoke's Marko Arnautovic shoved Debuchy as he ran off the pitch and the Arsenal right-back crashed into the advertising hoardings. It genuinely took the gloss off Arsenal's win over Stoke because there is a feeling at the club of not being able to really tap into the full potential of the squad.
There always seems to be someone missing. It's not down to Arsenal's injury record this time. It's purely and simply down to bad luck. I thought Arnautovic was out of order and rash by shoving Debuchy. Others don't agree. But I did feel there was a bit of spice there.
But whether the shove was intentional or purely an accident, there's no way Arnautovic would have meant to leave Debuchy with such a bad injury.
Nevertheless, it does leave Arsenal once again frustratingly short of their first XI. It makes you wonder what they could do with their first-choice lineup. Debuchy at right-back, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at centre-back and Kieran Gibbs at left-back.
But there always seems to be someone missing. Mikel Arteta is out, Theo Walcott is coming back and Jack Wilshere is out. Mesut Ozil is coming back and they've got Danny Welbeck missing, while Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were outstanding against Stoke.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was terrific, and on any other day, he'd be man of the match. But Sanchez is out of this world; he's playing brilliantly and raising the level of some of his teammates. His appetite and work rate are sensational, and Sanchez's drive means that he will continue to score goals and never give up. He's a world-class player, that's for sure.
But just imagine if Arsenal had a full squad to choose from -- and that's the frustration. They've got such a depth of options that it makes you think how good they would be if only they didn't carry on getting injury after nagging injury.
I still think they are short of one centre-half to back up Mertesacker and Koscielny, and that's a real deficiency in the squad, especially with Koscielny playing through an Achilles problem. The other key area is a holding midfielder. It's the age-old problem. But maybe Wenger doesn't want a big, physical specimen like a Nemanja Matic or Morgan Schneiderlin.
They clearly like Schneiderlin, and I'm sure they'll go for him again in the summer. But, if you look at Wenger's eye for players, they've not had that sort of midfield anchorman since Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva. Alex Song never played like that for Arsenal.
Arsenal went for Yohan Cabaye. He is small, mobile and a good passer. Arteta does that job for Arsenal now (when fit, of course). He sits, reads the game and passes neatly. Now there's clearly something going on with Moussa Sissoko. The Newcastle player has made it clear he fancies Arsenal by claiming the Gunners are "the club of his heart." Sissoko can play as a deeper midfielder and you begin to wonder whether he would be the man.
Borussia Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan is not exactly the classic anchorman either. But he could do a Claude Makelele job in the way he sits there, protects the back four and distributes the ball brilliantly. Sevilla's Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak is another they've reportedly looked at.
My hunch is that Wenger will do business in January. Not least because of this injury curse that seems to have been placed on the club. They need more reinforcements. But in the longer term they also need a holding midfielder, in my opinion. In whatever guise that may be.
However, the frustration is that if Arsenal had the full quota of players to choose from, maybe the team would find the consistency they need to really push on this season.