Fabregas Fitness Still Major Issue For Arsenal

Last night on Twitter, Cesc Fabregas said that he hoped to be back in the Arsenal starting XI for the Blackburn match a week on Saturday. If this turns out to be true it will be a timely boost. Not only is our captain a joy to watch, he’s also incredibly important to our success on the pitch.

This claim isn’t just the usual stuff about him being the club’s captain and playmaker-in-chief, it’s also represented in statistics I found whilst suffering withdrawal symptoms from proper Football in this interminable international break.

To cut a long and slightly geeky story short, I looked at all the games we’ve lost in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup, plus the Carling Cup Final. I also added to that games we’ve drawn that we really ought to have won. It turns out that Cesc missed the majority of these games.

Games Fabregas has missed 2010/11

H/A Competition Opponent Result
H PL WBA Lost 2-3
A PL Chelsea Lost 0-2
A CL Shakhtar Lost 1-2
A PL Man Utd Lost 0-1
A PL Wigan Drew 2-2
N/A CC Birmingham Lost 1-2
H PL Sunderland Drew 0-0
A FAC Man Utd Lost 0-2
A PL WBA Drew 2-2

That table shows nine games where Cesc didn’t play and Arsenal lost points. We should also mention the away game at Braga where we risked our captain’s fragile hamstring for 68 minutes and managed to concede two goals in the 22 ensuing minutes after his replacement.

We can’t forget the Tottenham game, in which Cesc played 90 minutes, or the unbelievable 4-4 at St James’ Park, where our talisman also lasted the distance. Even taking these aberrations into account, we’re still looking at 15 league points, a Mickey Mouse Cup and the continued passage in two other competitions that can be attributed, at least in part, to the absence of this side’s heartbeat.

You could argue that we shouldn’t be so reliant on one player. This may be true but, if you add my thoughts to this excellent piece about the continued importance of Arsenal’s established spine, you can see that we have more options than just Cesc. However, as luck would have it, they keep getting crocked too. Fabregas is the core of our side but Walcott, Van Persie, Song and even Djourou have important roles to play.

So, what’s the answer? Clearly it’s not possible to go out and buy a new core of players that can come in and replace the ones we have when injured. It’s not possible because it’s too expensive for a kick-off. Secondly, if you buy a player and he comes in as a backup he may have the potential to be a match winner but unless he plays week-in-week-out, with the responsibility of being the key man in his role, his potential to significantly influence games is diminished. Just look at the lack of goals from Chelsea’s front three since Torres disrupted the equilibrium.

Teams are built around key performers for a reason; it’s just not possible to have a readymade replacement, firing on all cylinders, and happy to sit on the bench.

This doesn’t mean to say that those who are in the squad as backups shouldn’t up their game; too many of our second tier players this term haven’t offered enough. There is room for improvement here but, as well as the option of dipping into the transfer market, we already have Ramsey and Lansbury who are developing into viable options for a prominent role in the midfield whilst the likes of Bartley, Miquel, Frimpong, Coquelin, JET, Vela and Miyachi offer options elsewhere.

Aside from the depth of the squad, we seriously have to look at our medical team. I don’t wish to make any accusations but I really hope that every effort is being made to ensure that it functions as highly as it needs to. I touched on this last week as I believe that personal coaches are not necessary. And is it merely a coincidence that Cesc, who has his own personal fitness coach, has continued to suffer from injury this season? Either there is something wrong with our fitness regime or we are the most unlucky side in the world!

One final point, which I’ll look to explore at a later date, is whether we are a bit one dimensional tactically? Wenger’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation was built around Cesc; maybe we need to look at a different way of playing when Fabregas is resting his hamstrings?

Keep The Faith. In Wenger we trust.