What would the end of Arsenal’s first title-chasing season in two decades be without a late injury blow?
On Thursday, frustrating news broke from resident Arsenal oracle David Ornstein as he announced that the Gunners would play out the final three matches of the season without defenders William Saliba and Alexander Zinchenko, stretching Arsenal’s defense, and title chances, even thinner.
Arsenal defenders William Saliba + Oleksandr Zinchenko out for rest of season. Saliba has not recovered sufficiently from back injury & Zinchenko picked up calf problem at Newcastle. Better news is neither expected to require surgery @TheAthleticFC #AFC https://t.co/hYY55WcnYr— David Ornstein (@David_Ornstein) May 11, 2023
The Saliba news comes as little surprise. After being subbed off with a back injury during the first half of Arsenal’s Europa League match against Sporting, he and Arsenal’s physio staff have struggled to get him back on the mend, with the injury exceedingly difficult to diagnose. He has missed every match since his injury, eight in total.
The Zinchenko news, however, is an unexpected major blow from a familiar ailment. It appears that his recurring calf issue, which saw him miss a few weeks early in the season, flared up following the Newcastle match last Sunday. No timeline has been given for his recovery, but the club has chosen to shelf him until the season’s completion at the end of the month.
While Zinchenko’s form has been a little lacking defensively recently, his contributions to the attack have been instrumental all season, quickly displacing Kieran Tierney at the left back position after joining in the summer. Now, the Gunners will see out the remaining three matches with Tierney at left back. There are worse players to have as a backup, but with his own injury issues in the past, there will be a lots of breath-holding and finger crossing over the next three weeks.
Coupled with Takehiro Tomiyasu’s season-ending injury, Arsenal now have zero true depth for the fullback positions. That, as I understand, is not ideal, and most likely means that Granit Xhaka is the de-facto emergency backup at left back, where he has featured sparingly in the past. Also not ideal.
If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that it sounds like neither injury with require surgery as of Thursday, which hopefully means a more manageable recovery and less drop off in form for the two pivotal defenders. Arsenal have had far too many players under the knife this season, with Gabriel Jesus, Mohamed Elneny, Emile Smith Rowe, and Tomiyasu all undergoing surgery this season for various injuries.
Arsenal have only three matches left on the schedule. But those three matches have massive significance with Arsenal trailing league leaders Manchester City by one point. The Gunners face a test right out of the gate on Sunday when Brighton come to town, chasing a European spot of their own, and then travel to Nottingham Forest, who are hovering above the relegation zone. It will be an all-hands-on-deck push as the Gunners look to close out the season on a winning streak and potentially pip City to the title.
Here’s hoping for a quick and uncomplicated recovery for both players.