I suppose the current centre back issue is in some way a perfect illustration of our season. We have 6 centre backs with first team PL experience on our books (7 if you include Song who has played there with some frequency) – but 4 (or 5) are unavailable – Senderos out on loan and the others unavailable through injury. It seems unlikely that Gallas, Vermaelen or Djourou will feature again this season which leaves veterans Campbell and Silvestre and potentially Song to fulfil the remaining four PL fixtures this season.
Wenger has been criticised for not having provided adequate cover for injuries but it`s hard to see how we can cater for circumstances such as these with an average PL squad size of 26 or so. New regulations come into force next season which could restrict squads to 25 players over the age of 21 (of which at least 8 must be homegrown) plus an unlimited number of players under 21. With a standard 3 goalkeepers this allows the opportunity to only have one experienced player as cover for every outfield position in the team. Of course one centre back effectively provides cover for two players but the fact remains that we find ourselves down to the barebones despite having 6 centre backs. That`s the problem with an injury blight it tends to affect the team disproportionately in one position. Just as we found ourselves without strikers in December and January we now find ourselves with a surfeit of them and a defensive deficit now.
While any title aspirations, which were already out of our hands even before the mid-week defeat to our neighbours, are in any practical terms even more unrealistic now there remains the mathematical possibility that we can still, through some highly unlikely and bizarre twist of fate, find something to challenge for in the remaining games. Even 2nd spot is progress of a sort. But how do we approach these games?
While few have any faith in Silvestre he is still a better than average 4th choice centre back. He and Campbell, with Song still out, are the only obvious choices for the Wigan game though that might seem to come too early after the midweek game for Sol. So should we take the chance to blood one of the youngsters? Kyle Bartley still short of his 19th birthday seems the more obvious choice having debuted in the dead rubber CL fixture away to Olympiakos this season. Or while there is an ambition to at least go for 2nd place do we field the more experienced, if not entirely trusted options at least until the season conclusion becomes more definite?
After the Wigan game Song is likely to be available and, even though fixtures become evenly spaced out, I wouldn`t be surprised to see him used at centre back as he was at the end of last season gaining more experience in a position that Wenger has still favoured him for when the opportunity permits. It would be a shame to see a season in which we have come back so often after being written off limp lamely, a suitable enough description given the injuries, to a conclusion while it`s still possible to garner a somewhat reassuring 83 points for the season as we did the season before last. That might not favour blooding youngsters but then again perhaps it`s one of the few times when we can.
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