Djourou injury a significant blow to Arsenal's Premier League title challenge
It all looked so different a short time ago. There was an air of positivity surrounding the Emirates Stadium, as Arsene Wenger's squad looked well placed for the final furlong of an enthralling season in which they could still have recorded an historic quadruple. Then came a major reality check. A calamitous defeat to Birmingham City was followed swiftly by Catalonian heartbreak. Saturday's exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Manchester United was the sour icing to top a fortnight of huge disappointment.
Can Arsenal fans take any positives from this period? The frustrated discussion of a lack of silverware in the Emirates trophy cabinet will continue, but how well placed are the Gunners now to make a surge for the league trophy? A quick glance at the table proves the season is far from over. Three points behind United with a game in hand and only three goals inferior goal difference means there is still every chance the title could be heading for north London. Throw in the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson still has to take his side to Arsenal on May 1 and we could be set for an intriguing finish to the campaign.
The question now is can Arsenal dust themselves off from their cup disappointments? Their ability to do so will go a long way to determining the success of their campaign. A league title would clearly banish the memories of the unexpected Wembley crumble, Nou Camp despair and their inability to force the issue at Old Trafford. The significance of Saturday's result however may not lie merely in that Arsenal now only have the league to concentrate on while United continue to battle on three fronts.
The match at Old Trafford was hugely disappointing for the Gunners not just in the result, but in the late injury suffered by Johan Djourou. The Swiss defender has impressed this year - a dependable rock for Wenger's side. A collision with Bacary Sagna saw him dislocate his shoulder, however, leaving him sidelined for the remainder of the campaign. When considering talismanic players, we immediately think of the goal scorers and the playmakers. Much was made of Robin van Persie's time out and the significance of his absence for Arsenal, but a close look at some stats will show just how important Djourou has been for his team this season. Put simply, Wenger's side have not lost in the league in this campaign when Djourou has played. You can argue coincidence until you are blue in the face, but that is a fantastic record and testimony to the impact and development of the young defender.
Next Saturday's game at a struggling West Bromwich Albion side could be an ideal place to build a run of momentum as Wenger looks to rally his troops for a concerted push towards the title. Djourou may not be a stand-out star in the squad, but only time will tell just how much of an impact his loss will have.