You ask every Premier League manager (possibly with the exception of Owen Coyle) what their worst nightmare is, and they will say international duty. Managers cannot compensate for their players returning from international duty with injuries and it clearly has a detrimental effect on the season for any club. You only have to look back at the last few months to realise why managers dislike players representing their nations in the middle of the Premier League season with the injuries of Robin Van Persie and Fernando Torres giving Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez tactical headaches.
Arsene Wenger has recently come out and addressed the issue head on, claiming that player’s loyalties should lie firmly with their club. His comments come in light of a possible return for England youngster Theo Walcott ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League tie with the champions of Belgium, Standard Liége. Walcott has experienced an injury-struck start to the season, finding himself on the treatment table far more than both he and Arsenal fans would have liked. He made his return to the squad this weekend in the 1-0 loss at the Stadium of Light and looks set to take part in tonight’s match as Wenger begins to feel the strain of Robin Van Persie’s absence.
Wenger has expressed his views on the subject of international duty and the World Cup. “For me the big season is with Arsenal, not at the World Cup. We do not pay players to go to the World Cup. We pay them to do well for Arsenal. The first pride of a man is to do well for the guy who pays you in life.”
Wenger’s comments may seem a little rash, but in my opinion they are more than understandable. Arsenal have been in brilliant form, silencing critics who at the start of the season claimed they did not have what it takes to mount a serious title challenge, yet this weekend’s loss to Sunderland will have hurt Arsenal. They lacked in the final third without the inform Van Persie, who along with Cesc Fabregas has undoubtedly been amongst Arsenal’s top performers this season. With a Champions League tie and a clash with Premier League leaders Chelsea this Sunday, Wenger will be feeling the international break came at the worst time.
Arsenal could do with the explosive energy that Walcott will bring to their game and the player himself will be hoping he can get a run of games under his belt for his confidence. Team captain Cesc Fabregas has backed up Wenger’s controversial comments by highlighting Walcott’s involvement in the under 21 European Championships during the summer. Fabregas stated “It has been really bad luck for him since the start of the season, probably because of what happened in summer. When you play a long tournament sometimes it is difficult to come back. Maybe it was ‘burn-out’. He is still very young,”
International injuries are not just a problem for Wenger’s Arsenal side, I have already highlighted Fernando Torres for Liverpool and there is also the case of Cristiano Ronaldo, who sustained an ankle injury in an international against Hungary. I believe Wenger to have hit the nail on the head with his comments – club should come before country.