Arsenal's injuries outweigh Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott positives vs. Hull
The last word which springs to mind when learning of an Arsenal injury crisis is "shocked," but even a man as accustomed as manager Arsene Wenger is to seeing players drop like flies was right to be taken aback by Tuesday's unlucky events.
It is hard to know what to make of a match in which you find two strikers -- Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud -- both ending barren runs with braces in the 4-0 win over Hull City, but manage to lose four other players, including three potential centre-backs.
First, the good news: Walcott's double; his first a gentle finish with his instep after a vicious and perfectly-judged through ball from Joel Campbell; the second a deflected finish after a neat pass from the impressive Alex Iwobi. It represented his return to scoring five games since his important equaliser in the 2-1 home win over Leicester. Before that he had endured a 10-game run without a goal.
Giroud had waited even longer. After 11 fruitless matches, he finally ended the worst drought of his Arsenal career. Robbie Savage, commentating on BT Sport, had criticised the Frenchman for coming wide too frequently and putting in crosses when he should instead have been getting on the end of them, but handily Hull's David Meyler played him in perfectly on 41 minutes with a terrible square ball across his own box.
It's the kind of helping hand you need if you are suffering bouts of self-doubt and unable to replicate your usual standards. Emboldened by the lucky development, and after mimicking Bebeto's famous 1994 World Cup celebration to mark the birth of his first child just 24 hours previously, Giroud scored another in the second half.
It bodes well for Arsenal's run-in. To have Walcott and Giroud back in the goals is essential ahead of a run of three matches in three competitions in seven days: home to Hull in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, away to Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday and then away to Everton in the Premier League a week on Saturday.
But then, the bad news. With Laurent Koscielny missing the match due to injury, and unlikely to return for the weekend, Arsenal lost both of their starting centre-backs. Per Mertesacker failed to properly recover after a sickening clash of heads with Nick Powell after 17 minutes and had to be removed, with Gabriel Paulista joining him on the sidelines in the second half after sustaining a hamstring problem.
That left Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers together in the centre, but even then the former was seen "limping heavily" onto the coach back south. Monreal played five Premier League games as a centre-back in October and November of 2014 and would expect to start alongside Chambers if indeed Koscielny, Gabriel and Mertesacker are all unavailable in the weekend's quarter-final.
However, the most serious injury setback was suffered by Aaron Ramsey. It was a scenario which has been played out before: Ramsey, not fully fit, being pushed too much and sustaining a muscle injury. He lasted only 16 minutes after coming on as a substitute himself.
Even if Mohamed Elneny has slotted neatly enough into midfield and Campbell has performed impressively on the right when given his chance, Ramsey would have been hoping that a goal in the 2-2 derby draw with Tottenham might have sparked a resurgence in form. Instead he faces a new setback.
"I am shocked because we lost our two centre-backs and then Aaron Ramsey," Wenger said. "He was carrying a little niggle from Saturday's game against Tottenham and I am concerned about him. It is a thigh muscle injury." He added in a separate interview: "They are all doubts for Sunday against Watford and it's a problem."
And in fact it's a fairly big one. However you rate his side's chances, Wenger is the only manager in England still in contention for the Treble and he will have to juggle his resources accordingly. Added to Tuesday's walking wounded are pre-existing conditions to Petr Cech, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky.
A morale-boosting first win in six attempts may have come at some cost.