Team news for the Fulham game is that Djourou is out, which is mildly disappointing, and that RVP is out "... for a few weeks” with a thigh strain, which is hugely disappointing. How is he injured AGAIN ?
Whilst the absences of Toure, and maybe Eboue, means that we could never field the 1st XI against Fulham, RVP's injury reminds me once again how infrequently we have been able to put out our 1st XI this season. In fact, and I haven't checked every game yet, I don't think we have put our 1st XI out once this season!
Ok, that pre-supposes that we actually know what the 1st XI is, which is probably debatable this season, but I would say that the "current" first choice line-up would look something like this:
Alumina, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Hleb, Fabregas, Flamini, Rosicky, Adebayor and RVP.
Even ignoring the change of goalkeeper during the season, I don't think that team has played once this season. Now we were pretty close to that team in August, but Adebayor was injured throughout, Gallas and Rosicky were absent in September and much of October and then RVP has been out pretty much ever since. Cesc has also been injured in November and December.
Now why does this all matter? Surely we have a big squad and its naive to think in modern football that you can survive with 14 players etc
Well yes to an extent. Its all well and good to have 42 first squad players and clearly big squads are important to allow rotation when required to rest players and to cover for injuries. However, its also true that the great teams, the really successful ones, always have a consistent "first XI" that the manager wants to play in the big games.
Even in the modern era, the Arsenal team practically picked itself in the 1997-98, 2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons, and others for that matter. Whilst there was still room for doubt on occassion, such as whether Ray Parlour should have played more in his later years, or Edu when he was playing well in 2004 etc, the point was that we all knew what team Arsene wanted to pick and that the first XI played regularly together. Man United have had the touch recently to keep their first XI fit and healthy most of the time, especially their important players, but we just can't seem to do it.
The result of all these injuries and illnesses is inconsistency in selection and results. Its a natural consequence. Such things are usually part and parcel of the game but my fear is that RVP is now joining the Sicknote ranks - this is the 3rd season where he will have missed a large proportion of the games.
Its especially frustrating as RVP is, for my money, one of the most gifted strikers in the Premier league who if fit, would be competing for the golden boot every single year. In other words, he will win you trophies and without him we are a shadow of the team.
However, since RVP seems to have a genuine problem staying fit all season, then I think Arsene has a tough choice this summer. Bendtner and Eduardo have promise, bags of it, but I don't think they are at the required level yet to lead the front line for a season and win the league. Arsene needs to be convinced by the end of the season that one of those two has the ability to be considered a world class striker during 08/09, (my bet is on Eduardo) but for this season I have a nasty feeling that the absence of RVP is going to cost us if it continues.