News that Spanish full back Hector Bellerin is facing a month on the sidelines through injury presents something of a problem for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger ahead of this weekend’s trip to Old Trafford.
In little more than 12 months, Bellerin has gone from promising youngster to one of the first names on the team sheet, mixing defensive solidity with attacking nous, and his absence will be a big blow for the Gunners as they travel to take on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.
The Theatre of Dreams is a ground which hasn’t made for happy hunting in recent years and Wenger’s record against the Portuguese wind-up merchant is famously poor.
In order to end that lamentable run, Arsenal will need to play at their absolute peak, both defensively and in front of goal. Mourinho’s men may well be experiencing some difficulties of their own but, defensively at least, his sides are almost always capable of spoiling the game when needed.
News of Alexis Sanchez’s apparent return to fitness, after a mini-scare in midweek, is welcome but it does rather focus attention on just what Arsene is going to do at right back.
We have ready-made replacements in Carl Jenkinson and Matthieu Debuchy, but both are desperately short of game time owing to injury and indifference respectively.
Personally, I think Arsene will plump for Jenkinson, as he did in the recent League Cup fixture, but I wouldn’t rule out a surprise return for the Frenchman either.
Matthieu may have been out of form and out of luck in the last year, but he will want to put himself in the shop window for January, which is just around the corner, and what better way to earn a last big move than by impressing at Old Trafford?
And, let’s not forget, the man is an experienced international of some repute. That he has suffered with a loss of form and confidence is not entirely his own fault – I think especially of the nasty incident in which he damaged his shoulder after being shoved off the pitch against Newcastle a few seasons ago.
That said, I suspect Arsene will go for someone in a more positive frame of mind in Jenkinson, a guy who wants to impress, who wants to play for his boyhood club, and who knows he needs to perform in order to earn a more permanent place in the squad.
What worries me is that Carl is seriously lacking in football minutes, having only recently returned to the squad after a knee injury.
There’s no doubting that, should he get the nod over Debuchy, Mourinho will seek quite relentlessly to focus his attack down Jenkinson’s side. The pace of Rashford, or the trickery and movement of Mata could pose a real problem for Carl.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that the midfield will have to be on top of the situation at all times, and the cover must be exceptional.
Theo Walcott, who will more than likely return to the right wing, has been excellent defensively this season and he will need to be if he has Carl playing behind and beyond him.
If both of them focus on getting the basics right, against a struggling, dysfunctional Manchester United side, they should do well enough to nullify the threat from the hosts.
But they must concentrate for 90 minutes. Nothing helps a side return to form than a great goal or a dominant performance and we cannot afford to let that happen. We can’t give Mourinho the satisfaction.