Once again Arsenal are in the grip of an injury crisis as they prepare to face Southampton in the Capital One Cup tonight. The news that new signing Mathieu Debuchy has been ruled out for three months with an ankle problem leaves the Gunners woefully short of cover at the back, while the sight of midfielder Abu Diaby making yet another comeback could prompt fans to watch the match through their fingers.
Arsenal have suffered so badly with injuries in recent campaigns that last season Arsene Wenger even launched an internal inquiry into the club's training methods and medical procedures in a bid to try and stem the tide of misfortune.
So far it does not appear to have paid off. According to Arsenal Report five players are currently sidelined, including full backs Debuchy and Nacho Monreal. Calum Chambers is recovering from tonsilitis, Mathieu Flamini missed the game against Aston Villa and Jack Wilshere managed only 12 minutes after picking up an ankle injury in the Champions League. Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny and Mikel Arteta have also all been hurt this term.
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The positive news, if it can be called that, is that all the current absentees were injured during matches, rather than in training. And importantly none of the long term casualties have been suffering unexpected setbacks in training, something that used to be the Gunners' trademark.
Earlier this month Arsenal appointed World Cup winning fitness coach Shad Forsythe, part of the Germany set up in Brazil this summer. Diaby's return could be the litmus test for his influence. Astonishingly, the Frenchman will be coming back from his 40th injury while at Arsenal when he lines up against Southampton, according to the Daily Mirror. It will be his first start since February 2013.
The 28-year-old's run of abysmal luck has made him something of a cause celebre and Arsene Wenger has praised his determination to keep on. "He's a giant mentally," he said. "To do what he has done, with the severe injuries he had, he comes back every time, is dedicated and he deserves a lot of respect."
But while Diaby's return, if successful, will inevitably be hailed as "like a new signing", the injury to Debuchy leaves the Gunners with just four fit senior defenders – Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Koscielny and Chambers. The wisdom of loaning Carl Jenkinson to West Ham for the season is now being questioned.
Youngsters including Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin, Semi Ajayi and Isaac Hayden could feature against Southampton, but they were always likely to appear in the Capital One Cup, and doubts remain about their first team chances. The Independent, for one, is not convinced of their pedigree. "Hector Bellerin played in the 2-0 defeat against Borussia Dortmund, but was poor and was didn't even make the substitutes bench for the 3-0 win against Aston Villa," it notes.
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