Sanchez blow

Arse­nal’s in­jury cri­sis deep­ens

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeremy Wil­son at Car­row Road

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

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