In recent seasons, Arsenal’s injury problems have been a plague of sorts. Robbing us of the ability to be at our best, a hindrance to each season’s attempt for glory. Time and again, opponents with a propensity for the ancient art of thuggery choose to test the flexibility of our players limbs with an ill-timed lunge or hack.
Some would argue that our style of football attracts fouls – attempting to slalom through three or four players will always bring out the worst in an adversary – but Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere et al will attest to the sheer amount of flying boots and legs they must avoid.
Last season it was our defence that suffered. New signing Calum Chambers was forced to acclimatise in a hurried fashion as suspensions and repeated injuries took their toll and forced our fresh faced recruit from Southampton to take to the field with only a minutiae of top-flight experience.
Koscielny, Mertesacker, Chambers, Gibbs, Debuchy and Monreal were all out at some point in the first half of the season. A whole defence worth of injuries conspired to create a perfect storm. It was a case of all hands on deck from September through to January, with the medical room brimming with cases ranging from tendonitis to tonsillitis.
This period was responsible for not only giving Calum Chambers some much needed experience, but also the emergence of Hector Bellerin.
The flying Spaniard had less minutes on the pitch than Chambers, but was thrust into the side thanks to new signing Mathieu Debuchy suffering an ankle injury. He hasn’t looked back and the injury crisis was the catalyst that Bellerin needed to exhibit his readiness for first team football.
Hector’s pace, his stamina and his assuredness on the ball belie his age. The fact he is still keeping out a fully-fledged French international is testament to how good he is. Throw in the fact that he will only improve from here and you have a right-back that is destined for the very top.
What about Debuchy though?
His first season started so well. Straight into the side, he showed that we wouldn’t miss Bacary Sagna. His crossing was a vast improvement on his French colleague and his defensive acumen was on par with Sagna. His transition was seamless.
Our tense Champions League Play-Off victory over Besiktas showed Debuchy in his best light – before his sending off. He was an ever-reliable output when under pressure and nothing went past him. He was a terrier with an incredible engine.
An omnipresent bane that exists solely within Arsenal ranks was to turn Debuchy’s Arsenal career sour however. An ankle injury that caused him to miss two months and a shoulder injury – doled out by a Stoke player mercilessly shoving him when out of play – gave Bellerin the crack in the door that he had been waiting for.
Is it due to Bellerin’s sparkling form that we have forgotten about Mathieu? Is it thanks to Debuchy’s struggle to regain the form he knows he is capable of? Have we forgotten when the five foot ten Gaul filled in at centre-back after a day learning the role, during that injury plague that was referred to earlier?
Debuchy performed heroically. His aerial ability for a man under six foot height is simply sensational. When fit, Giroud’s best friend is a man that can be called upon and last season showed this. It must be remembered that sporadic appearances will only slow a players recouping of form. Debuchy needs a run of games in order to fine tune his game and iron out the flaws which have seemingly ruined his confidence this term and blotted his copybook with a large section of fans.
It is apparent that rustiness is not to be tolerated. Such are the fine margins for victory in the Premiership and the European Cup that mistakes cannot be tolerated and will linger in the memory when recollection of a player is needed.
Debuchy didn’t become a bad player. Injury may have dulled what was a keen edge, but gametime can be a figurative whetstone for him. It is always difficult keeping two top players happy when vying for one position but Debuchy can be a major asset when muscles become tweaked and tendons are stretched. If Bellerin succumbs to the lure of the treatment table, who better to replace him? Can we honestly say if that set of events were to transpire, that Debuchy wouldn’t enjoy a run of form and keep out Hector?
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, Bellerin is the priority. If we are to be cynical, we want to keep the young Spaniard happy and provide him with all his requirements in the surefire event that his homeland come calling. He is our future, along with Ramsey, Theo, Jack, The Ox, Ozil and Sanchez. He can provide years of stability and excellence down our right flank.
Mathieu Debuchy however, cannot be forgotten. His experience and defensive nous are tools that can be handed down to Hector. His next two years will probably be his last in the echelons of the Premiership – certainly at Arsenal. We must harvest what he possesses and gift it to Bellerin. Not only this, but it cannot be underestimated how valuable he can be to our cause in terms of playing staff.
If form were to be the death knell of players careers at a club, then we could have bid sayonara to Ozil, Ramsey, The Ox and many more last season. Nacho Monreal would have been packed away after his first season, and look at how invaluable he is now. Mathieu will come back to the level he had before and when he does, I hope fans will recall that this is merely him at the level he has always had, rather than a purple patch.
Form is fickle, much like most of us.