Wenger’s worries grow after Coquelin adds to injury woe

Midfielder could face long spell out with knee injury

 Arsene Wenger: “I feel we took it a bit too easy at 1-0 despite the experience we have in the squad.” Photograph: Tim Keeton/EPA

Arsene Wenger: “I feel we took it a bit too easy at 1-0 despite the experience we have in the squad.” Photograph: Tim Keeton/EPA

 

West Bromwich Albion 2 Arsenal 1

Arsene Wenger had hoped to go into tomorrow’s critical Champions League match against Dinamo Zagreb on the back of a confidence-boosting Premier League victory and with Aaron Ramsey returning to ease Arsenal’s injury crisis.

Instead they flopped to an all too predictable defeat at West Bromwich Albion, lost two more players to injury and learned that Ramsey will not be available to face Zagreb after all. A bad weekend, then, and one that jeopardises Arsenal’s ambitions for the season.

Wenger had indicated before Saturday’s visit to Albion that he expected Ramsey to have recovered by Tuesday from the hamstring trouble that has kept him out of action for the last month, but in the wake of the loss here he said: “It looks difficult to have players to come back for Tuesday. Ramsey will be short, Theo Walcott andAlex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be short and they are the closest.”

Arsenal must beat Zagreb at the Emirates to avoid being eliminated from the Champions League at the group stages for the first time in 16 years.

Ramsey’s non-availability would leave them without eight first-team players, as Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta were added to the club’s casualty list after limping off on Saturday.

Wenger is waiting to find out how long each will be absent but fears Coquelin, who left The Hawthorns on crutches, will be a lengthy absentee after hurting knee ligaments when he slid into a tackle with Claudio Yacob.

Losing the Frenchman for a long period would seriously weaken Arsenal’s midfield, as Coquelin has become their main ball winner and, with Arteta and Jack Wilshere also injured, there is no obvious replacement at the club other than the 31-year-old Mathieu Flamini, who has been entrusted with only one start this season outside the Capital One Cup.

Wenger was criticised during the summer for not buying defensive midfield reinforcements precisely because supporters feared that an injury to Coquelin would leave a gaping hole in midfield.

There were holes throughout the Arsenal team at The Hawthorns, as a defence that has been solid for most of the season was pierced with alarming ease.

Olivier Giroud headed Arsenal into the lead in the 28th minute but seven minutes later James Morrison was allowed to run on to a free-kick by Chris Brunt and volley into the net from 10 yards.

Before half-time the visitors were undone again, Arteta sliding the ball into his own goal after a cross by James McClean, whose strength and boundless enterprise gave Hector Bellerin a torrid afternoon.

“We thought we’d struggle against Bellerin in respect of his pace but James has run him three or four times, he was superb,” enthused Tony Pulis, who has lost only once at home to Wenger’s Arsenal during his time at Albion, Crystal Palace and Stoke City.

There is something about the ruggedness and realism of Pulis sides that brings out the flimsiness in Arsenal.

Even Wenger admitted that the stumbling was typical of his team.

“Yes, I don’t deny that,” he said. “That’s where we have to mature. I could feel it from outside. Instead of pushing on we became vulnerable.”

Laurent Koscielny, who had been uncharacteristically sloppy in the 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur before his difficult international break with France, endured another off-day, and Per Mertesacker also looked inadequate.

The loss of Coquelin in front of them left the central defenders more exposed. Wenger is eager to ensure that does not become a recurring problem and says the visit of Zagreb represents an ideal opportunity to get back on track.

“It is a difficult moment for us,” said Wenger.

“In the last two games we took one point out of six and that is very disappointing after such a great run. We have to come back quickly and focus. It was a severe disappointment but we cannot change it. The only thing we can do now is bounce back on Tuesday night.”

One source of optimism for Arsenal was the performance at The Hawthorns of Alexis Sanchez, who was said to be jaded before the match but who sparkled with creativity nonetheless. Arsenal need him to continue in that vein until reinforcements arrive.

“I have not much room to rest anybody at the moment,” said Wenger. Guardian Service

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