Theo Walcott should be a lesson learned. It only takes one injury to a high-profile member of a squad to potentially derail a season.
This month the focus has been on Arsenal strengthening their attack and relieving Olivier Giroud in these final few months of the season. The Frenchman has been courageous throughout the campaign, more than willing to accept his responsibility and importance to the team. But as we’ve seen from recent games, despite a goal against Aston Villa on Monday night, the former Montpellier striker can be wasteful with what he’s given. With Walcott now out for the season, there is an added pressure on Arsene Wenger to invest in a forward.
Yet it’s been at the other end where the need for an extra body has been forgotten. That’s been due to the excellent partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, who have done just as much to get Arsenal to the top of the Premier League than those in front of them.
Going into this season, Wenger opted to go with what he had, that being only three natural centre-backs and a right-back in Bacary Sagna who could deputise in emergencies. The club are currently awaiting news on Nacho Monreal’s injury sustained against Villa, but the club are in a far better position to cover for Walcott’s absence internally than they are if either Koscielny or Mertesacker were to be sidelined long term.
It’s not to take anything away from club captain Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian has done well whenever called upon this season. Though the understanding between him and one of the other options at centre-back isn’t as strong as that between Wenger’s first-choice pairing, he’s more than good enough to come in and play a part in a title race.
The problem is depth, as it always is at Arsenal. The club are not sitting in a position where they can freely move Sagna in and out of the right-back position, and not just because of how consistent the back four have been this season. Carl Jenkinson has shown in sporadic appearances this season that he is still too green to be a regular in the Arsenal starting XI. Yet if Monreal is out for the foreseeable future – and keep in mind Kieran Gibbs has only just returned from injury – a reshuffle of Wenger’s options in defence could upset the balance.
Those who have recently returned from injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski, can help to fill the void left by Walcott’s absence. Aaron Ramsey, too, is an option. Wenger is fortunate that midfield is Arsenal’s overwhelming strength, with the club yet to suffer too heavily in that area of the pitch this season.
In defence, however, the insurance is nothing comparable. There was further luck that Koscielny wasn’t ruled out for the majority of the remainder of the season when he appeared to awkwardly twist his knee against Manchester City. Anything long term would have forced Wenger into the market without question.
The attack is in need of improvement, but with the bodies Wenger has at his disposal and the options available to him in the summer, it will be understandable if he chooses to overlook a forward signing this month. Arsenal will always find ways to goal with the personnel currently in the squad.
With so much importance given to Arsenal’s need to “fire” themselves to the title, little consideration has gone into protecting what they have. The real strengthening of Arsenal’s title push this season should come in defence.