Arsenal coast past Hull but will injuries cost us FA Cup success?
The 4-0 scoreline at the KC Stadium may have slightly flattered Arsenal who only got going in the second half, but a growing problem that threatened to derail our season has potentially got a whole lot worse. Injuries are part and parcel of football, and are often caused by overexertion, bad tackles or general wear and tear during a long campaign in which our players have been competing on numerous fronts. However, fans have started to ask questions over the quality of conditional coaching at the club after we have been hit with a list of injury absentees once again, with nine players currently sidelined with a variety of problems that vary from hamstring and calf to knee and Achilles tendon. Arsenal have already seen their Premier League title odds lengthen with Coral due to a stumble in form that has seen us go three games without a win at the worst possible time, and while there is still twenty-seven points to play for, along with an FA Cup Quarter Final and Champions League tie at Barcelona to try and overturn a 2-0 deficit, there is a growing fear that injuries may ruin any chance of success.
Hull deserve credit for the manner in which they approached the game, particularly in the first half where they were arguably the better team as we were flat and failed to assert ourselves on the game. Olivier Giroud’s capitalisation on an awful backpass before half-time and nicely taken volley ultimately changed the tie in Arsenal’s favour, with an efficient second half performance making the result a formality as Steve Bruce’s side became more content with avoiding injuries ahead of their gruelling Championship run-in. It secured our passage to the Quarter Finals where we will face Watford at the Emirates Stadium this coming weekend, but Arsene Wenger may be without Per Mertesacker, Gabriel and Aaron Ramsey who were all taken off due to injury. They join the likes of Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny on the sidelines, with the immediate concern being that three of our main centre-backs may be absent for a competition that may arguably represent our greatest chance of silverware this season.
Watching the injury list grow fills me with the worry that we may end the campaign without a trophy, with the lack of options, particularly in defence, likely to leave Wenger with a significantly weakened side during what could be a pivotal few weeks. Watford may be enduring a poor run of form, having only won one of their last six Premier League matches, but they will fancy their chances of causing a major upset as underdogs in the latest FA Cup odds with Coral and take full advantage of our injury crisis.
Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo will undoubtedly relish the opportunity to come up against Calum Chambers and whoever Wenger chooses to partner him, whether it is someone like Francis Coquelin or a player from the youth system, although there is always the option of switching to three at the back. Those asking the question of “who’ll go into the FA Cup final as the bookies’ favourite?” should certainly not get ahead of themselves and assume that Arsenal are guaranteed to reach their third consecutive final in search of equalling a record held by Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers, particularly in a season packed with so many unpredictable twists and turns. It may now take a big effort for Arsenal to secure their place at Wembley, as although we still have plenty of quality in attack with Giroud also back amongst the goals, we have lost more key players to injury at the worst possible time.
Critics would point to a lack of strong mentality and complacency when we are expected to win matches (recent defeats against Southampton, Chelsea and Swansea being prime examples), but losing three more players to injury takes the gloss off reaching the FA Cup Quarter Finals. Certain players, such as the Ox, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky may not play again this season, while the absence of our three first-team centre-backs leaves us without any real quality or experience in a department where Arsenal need to be at their best during the run-in.
Watford should certainly not be under-estimated after making an excellent transition from the Championship to the Premier League, and although we recorded a 3-0 victory at Vicarage Road earlier in the season, they created numerous problems through an appealing, fluent style of football that Quique Sanchez Flores has brought to the club. The Hornets will have the luxury of fielding a strong line-up at the Emirates Stadium, although they will be without Miguel Britos, Joel Ekstrand and Jose Jurado through injury.
It remains to be seen how we respond to our latest injury setback, but with FA Cup glory on the line, Arsenal will have to stay strong and come through adversity – qualities which true champions are made of.
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