Arsenal’s injury crisis deepens
Arsène Wenger had rather hopefully compared Alexis Sánchez to a lion before this match but he discovered here the hard way that his team’s talisman and main predator is indeed only human.
Exactly an hour into what was Sánchez’s 90th game of football since joining Arsenal 16 months ago, his body finally succumbed when he pulled up clutching his hamstring. It was immediately clear that he could play no further part and any disappointment at a 1-1 draw in Norwich that stretches Arsenal’s winless Premier League run to three games was overshadowed by a renewed injury crisis.
As well as Sánchez, Arsenal lost Laurent Koscielny to a hip injury after 10 minutes while Wenger said that Santi Cazorla had completed the match “on one leg” amid fears of knee-ligament damage. Kieran Gibbs also sustained a calf injury before this game but it is the Sánchez situation that will prompt renewed scrutiny at how Wenger handles the workload of his players.
It was, after all, the manager himself who revealed that Sánchez had suffered a “hamstring alarm” following the 3-0 win against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.
Wenger had also openly acknowledged an imminent need to rest Sánchez but even here, with Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available again, the temptation to start the Chile international was too great.
Wenger was tetchy in the postmatch press conference but is clearly unconvinced by Sánchez’s immediate claim that the damage might only be short-term. “He says it’s a kick on his hamstring – I believe that’s not the reality,” the Arsenal manager said. “I fear not.”
Asked if he regretted playing Sánchez, Wenger said: “No, the players are there to play football, not to be rested when the press decides. Nobody is scientifically
developed enough, not even the press, to predict when a guy will be injured. We checked it and he had no problem. When you have normal stretch and force there is no problem. We have plenty of players across Europe who play in every game.”
That might be true but, in playing also every international match in another continent for Chile, as well international tournaments during these past two summers, Sánchez is virtually unique. There will now be an anxious wait over these next 48 hours for the results of scans to Cazorla and Koscielny as well as Sánchez.
“We don’t know if Cazorla has jarred the knee ligament or it was a kick on the nerve – the worrying thing is it got worse,” Wenger said. “Koscielny was a kick on the hip and he can’t move.”
Despite the early loss of Koscielny, Arsenal were actually quickly into their rhythm, with Nacho Monreal twice creating clear chances and Sánchez shooting powerfully from the edge of the area to force a diving save from John Ruddy.
The Norwich keeper had already been erratic with some of his kicking when, in the 30th minute, he skewed a clearance to the feet of Gary O’Neil near the base of Norwich’s midfield. It seemed to take O’Neil by surprise and a first touch was soon pounced upon by Sánchez, who brilliantly opened up the Norwich defence for Mesut Özil.
Wenger had spoken on Thursday of how Özil was now ready to add more goals to his game and Arsenal’s record £42.5 million signing duly sent a clinical chipped finish beyond Ruddy.
Arsenal appeared in control but lost their concentration amid a series of unusual incidents. Özil had been chasing a pass forward by Sánchez and took a heavy fall on to his stomach next to all the photographers behind the goal.
Rather less innocent was then how Sánchez was sent tumbling into a television camera on the side of the pitch following a shove in the back by Ryan Bennett.
Arsenal might also have conceded a penalty when Mathieu Flamini clumsily bundled into the back of Wes Hoolahan before Robbie Brady tested Petr Cech with a curling shot. Brady soon again drifted off the left flank and into central space first to seize possession in front of Ramsey and then dissect Arsenal’s defence with the outside of his left boot. Gabriel was culpable for allowing Lewis Grabban to turn him and the Norwich striker finished past Cech. It was Grabban’s first game for a month and first goal of a season that begun with him being suspended for a breach of club discipline.
“Management is about putting people in when probably everybody thinks it is wrong,” Alex Neil, the Norwich manager, said. With Arsenal losing Sánchez and Cazorla so clearly suffering, Norwich ultimately looked most likely to snatch a winner. Hoolahan missed a wonderful chance, while Martin Olsson’s cross deflected off Gabriel and forced an excellent save by Cech.
As he departed with his wounded squad, Wenger took solace from how his team remain within touch of Manchester City despite another missed opportunity. “Trust us, we’ll be there,” he said. The length now of Sánchez’s absence is likely to determine whether such optimism is well founded.
Painful: Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger looks on with concern at the injured Alexis Sánchez