Club Focus – Arsenal – Wenger the mystic

In recent weeks, Arsene Wenger talked of injuries mounting up in November and the international break has proved to fulfil his prophecy. If Wenger’s predictions remain spookily accurate then Arsenal would be champions come May.

Kieran Gibbs sustained a bruised foot on international duty, an injury which will keep him out for a week with Mikael Silvestre likely to fill in at left-back. The most pressing news, however, is the injury to Robin van Persie, sustained early in Holland’s clash with Italy on Saturday. The Flying Dutchman faces four to six weeks on the sidelines and has travelled to Serbia in his bid to recover. His unusual treatment will include massage with fluid from a placenta as he makes every effort to reduce his recovery time and return to action swiftly. In the meantime Eduardo is likely to deputise in the central striker’s role and the Brazilian-born Croatian committed his future to the club by signing a new long-term contract this week. Eduardo is likely to get his first prolonged exposure since his horrific injury in the 2007/08 season, and having shown only glimpses of his goal-scoring prowess since, he will aim to cement a starting place over the next few weeks.

With international week leaving very little for supporters of Premier League clubs other than injury news, the rumour mill has cranked into overdrive. Once again Barcelona are reported to be preparing a bid for Cesc Fabregas, with any movement likely to be mirrored by Real Madrid. Both the player and his manager have repeatedly refuted claims that the Spaniard will leave, and for now Fabregas is going nowhere. It is apt the rumours should resurface during the international break however, after another Arsenal youngster put in a stellar performance for his country.

Aaron Ramsey was the shining light in a weakened Wales team that comfortably brushed aside Scotland on Saturday. The talented 19-year-old has really blossomed under Wenger’s tutelage, and has become pivotal to Wales’ rebuilding efforts. He has also put in some excellent cameo performances for Arsenal – most notably in the Champions League – and prior to the break he was given his first league start of the season against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Ramsey’s assured touch and eye for a pass are reminiscent of Fabregas at that age and surely Ramsey is the natural successor to the Spaniard. For the meantime Ramsey remains a developing talent, but Wenger is safe in the knowledge that should Fabregas one day feel he has the Blaugrana in his DNA, he has a ready-made replacement in Ramsey.

One player not on international duty in the last week was Manuel Almunia, who, after a lengthy absence with a virus, has recently reclaimed his position. In his stead the rookie Vito Mannone deputised ably, proving to be yet another youngster with tremendous potential coming through the ranks. Another young keeper, Lukasz Fabianski made a return from injury in the Carling Cup last month and put in a good performance before suffering another unfortunate injury setback. It is widely believed Wenger sees Fabianski as the ultimate successor at No 1, and a fully fit Pole would have produced an interesting selection dilemma.

However, it was Almunia that started the derby match, keeping his place since and allaying suspicions the Spaniard’s days at the club may be numbered. Almunia could justifiably have feared the worst in light of Wenger’s youth policy. Similarly, it appeared Almunia may live and die by the sword, losing his position in the same way he gained it. He established himself as first choice at the back-end of the 2007/08 season, deputising following injury to Jens Lehmann. This resulted in one unhappy German, griping that he was: “sitting on the bench behind somebody who only started to play when he was 30″. – a swift departure at the end of the season soon followed. This time around Wenger has stuck with the experienced candidate, yet whilst Almunia is No 1 for now, his position is far from secure.

Arsenal head into Saturday’s fixture against Sunderland before welcoming Chelsea to the Emirates next weekend as the season really begins to take shape. The Gunners will look to continue their good form and remain firmly in the hunt throughout the Christmas fixtures when they aim to have van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott and Gael Clichy all available again.

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