Friday, 18 November 2011

Gibbs and Jenkinson injured

Arsene Wenger today delivered some unfortunate team news following the international break. Both Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson appear set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Gibbs has undergone a hernia operation which will force him out of action for four to five weeks, while Jenkinson has a stress fracture in his back and has been advised to rest (for how long we don’t know, but you can imagine it is not a short-term injury).

The news of Kieran Gibbs’ injury is softened slightly by the form of Andre Santos, although the defensive side of his game is still questionable and must improve considerably. Jenkinson’s injury however is a significant blow, especially considering he had recently shown signs of great development, particularly against West Brom and coupled with Sagna’s injury it leaves Arsenal bereft of an accomplished right back. The manager has previously suggested that Johan Djourou can fill in here, but his lack of concentration at times can be a real worry (particularly his positioning which Chelsea exploited time and again in the opening minutes of the 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge). Laurent Koscielny is another candidate who could fill this role, however the last time he played in this position was seven years ago and in any case he is performing so well at the heart of defence it would be remiss of Wenger to remove him from the centre back role. If the manager opts for either of these central defenders to solve his right back crisis, Arsenal will not only suffer defensively but also in attack. One of the most impressive aspects of Jenkinson’s play is his willingness to get forward and support the attack with his wonderful crosses, something which Djourou or Koscielny will not be able to replicate.

In previous seasons I have seen Francis Coquelin perform extremely well at right, back for the reserves. He was strong in the tackle and his powerful forward runs provided the attack with the extra dimension that will be lacking in the absence of Jenkinson. However he struggled when deployed in this role for an FA Cup game away to Stoke in January 2010 and Wenger has since admitted that Coquelin is uncomfortable in this position. I would therefore look to the reserve team and Nico Yennaris. Although also primarily a central midfielder, he proved in the Carling Cup win against Bolton that he can perform well at right back, in fact his performance was excellent, winning every ball in the air and exuding confidence. The fact that he is naturally a midfielder will also help with the attacking side of the game which is an essential element of the modern right back role.

Arsene Wenger has a tough decision to make and with the notoriously congested Christmas schedule shortly upon us, it’s a decision which could well have a significant impact on Arsenal’s season.

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