Friday, November 23, 2007

A Most Unlikely Situation At Arsenal

Arsenal have what is arguably the best midfield lineup in the Premier League (and maybe even all of Europe).

A 20 year-old Cesc Fabregas leads a midfield which is so strong that even Brazil captain Gilberto Silva cannot break in to the lineup this season. Alex Hleb and Mathieu Flamini have undergone incredible changes this season to become two of the best in the Premiership and Tomas Rosicky can be brilliant on his day.

Behind this first-choice four the incredible Gilberto has to fight for a spot with young talents Neves Denilson and Lassana Diarra. Abou Diaby can also play in any offensive spot across the midfield, and even Alex Song has been getting better this season even though he is not Arsenal quality yet and his best game came in the center of defense.

With such a talented and deep midfield lineup, one would think that Arsenal would dominate the middle of the park against any team in the Premiership.

Football, though, is a game of many variables, and it seems that Arsenal's luck has run out.

First, Cesc Fabregas picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in a 3-1 victory over Reading. No big deal. We're playing against Wigan at home.

Then the French senior and U21 sides played. Mathieu Flamini and Abou Diaby were ruled out for the Wigan match due to injury. Diaby was likely to deputize as Fabregas served out his suspension, but with Tomas Rosicky and Alex Hleb in the side, we wouldn't be lacking in creativity. Gilberto, of course, is the perfect like-for-like substitute for Flamini, and as a Brazil international with almost 60 caps his quality is undeniable.

But the stream of injuries did not stop there. Belarus played the Netherlands in a European Qualifier in which the outcome meant nothing (the Netherlands had already qualified and Belarus was already out) and Alex Hleb was substituted out at half-time due to injury.

Now that was bad news. Hleb has undergone an incredible transformation since last season, and has been one of the best, if not the best, player at the club during this campaign. We could deal with it though. It is Wigan we're playing.

Then the news comes that Gilberto won't be playing due to fatigue. Not due to arrive until Friday evening, the Brazilian would be too fatigued to play the next afternoon.

So, it seems that a most unlikely situation has ocurred at Arsenal - a midfield crisis.

But will a Carling Cup midfield be enough to defeat a Premiership side?

19 year-old Neves Denilson and 22 year-old Lassana Diarra will have to answer that question for us on Saturday, as they are likely to start at the Emirates. It will be Diarra's first Premier League start since moving to Arsenal. It will be Denilson's 16th appearance.

But this is not how Arsene Wenger likes to expose his youngsters to first-team football. Fans will be expecting an emphatic win against a manager-less side, and the team may have trouble conjuring up enough offensive firepower without Fabregas, Hleb, Diaby, and Robin van Persie.

It shouldn't be too difficult to win three points though, especially considering the Latics abysmal form (one point in the last six games). However, staying on top of the table will be far more challenging.

Manchester United play third-from-bottom Bolton Wanderers and are almost surely going to improve their goal differential and pick up a full three points. Even against a second-from-bottom Wigan side, a depleted Arsenal squad will have difficulty winning by the same margin that United are likely to defeat Bolton by.

Arsenal fans are expecting a major trophy this season, but before we get too carried away let's get real. More than two-thirds of the Premiership season are yet to be played. The knockout rounds of the Champions league have yet to start. Winning a trophy is quite possible given the incredible talent of our team, but the lesson to be learned from this all this madness is quite simple: nothing in football can be taken for granted.