Arsenal’s annual injury inundation has resulted in the erosion of their already questionable defensive prowess, with a backline that’s held together with lolly sticks and sellotape shipping seven goals in three matches.
Previous opponents Manchester United – who beat the Gunners 2-1 last time out – are in similarly dire straits in terms of injuries, with Chris Smalling the most senior centre-half Louis van Gaal had available to him for the Emirates sojourn.
Were it not for an Olivier Giroud wonder strike deep into injury-time, the Red Devils makeshift rearguard would’ve recorded a clean sheet against an attack lauded as one of the most dangerous in the division.
Key to their sturdiness, aside from goalkeeper David De Gea’s heroics, was the deployment of youthful twosome Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett.
The duo were previously untested at the highest level prior to this season, but have unquestionably repaid the faith the Dutchman placed in them.
As centre-halves by trade, the pair didn’t have anywhere near as much to learn as a recalibrated full-back would, regardless of how many first-team appearances they’ve made.
Arsene Wenger has taken a contrasting approach to Van Gaal during his own injury crisis, choosing to pitch Spaniard Nacho Monreal in alongside Per Mertesacker to compensate for Laurent Koscielny’s absence.
While the former Malaga man’s temporary reign at the heart of the Arsenal defence hasn’t yielded the calamities it first promised, there is no way the second-string left-back should be first reserve when one mainline centre-half suffers a setback.
If Wenger had been as trusting as Van Gaal, perhaps the results the Gunners would have pocketed more points in recent weeks, and given the riches currently maturing in their esteemed academy, identifying the north Londoners’ own version of Blackett and McNair shouldn’t have been too tough.
Here are the two that should’ve been ahead of Monreal in the queue:
The occasional skipper of the Arsenal Under-21 side has been loitering around the first-team periphery in recent months, making one League Cup appearance this term.
Regarded for his ferocity in the tackle and leadership qualities, Hayden would’ve injected the tenacity that Monreal failed to bring to the table in Koscielny’s absence.
Domineering in the air and composed in possession, the teenage stopper has impressed since breaking into the side’s second string.
With plenty of pace too, he’s touted as one for the future, but his power would surely have made him a superior short-term centre-back solution given Monreal was the only other alternative.
Unfortunately, neither will be given the chance to impress against Borussia Dortmund next, a match which Arsenal are 7/5 to win.