Arsenal keep Raymond Verheijen in a job. The club have suffered 40 separate injuries so far this season, with the squad forced to fill the void left as a collective after Abou Diaby was airmailed in separate pieces to Marseille. Arsene Wenger has had to cope with 19 different individuals being sidelined through injury from August to April, ranging from Jack Wilshere’s 240 days out due to numerous setbacks, to Petr Cech alerting his groin by coming up for a corner, to Wenger breaking his Coq in November. But no injury has been more sorely felt at Arsenal than that of Santi Cazorla.
Arsenal’s Spanish midfield maestro has not featured for the club since the 1-1 draw with Norwich in November. Cazorla “played the second half on one leg” against the Canaries, by the admission of manager Wenger, after injuring his knee in the first half. The draw left Arsenal two points behind Premier League joint-leaders Manchester City and Leicester after 14 games. In the subsequent 21 games without their talismanic 31-year-old, the Gunners have slipped out of the title race, and even Champions League qualification is in jeopardy. Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny have attempted to fill the midfield gap in Cazorla’s absence, but have understandably struggled to replicate his quality and style.
Kevin de Bruyne
Would Manchester City have mounted a more serious Premier League title challenge had Kevin de Bruyne been fully fit for the season? Perhaps. It cannot be doubted that both Leicester and Tottenham have been largely fortunate to escape injuries throughout the season – not that we should downplay their achievements – but Manchester City have had no such luck.
De Bruyne suffered a knee injury in the Capital One Cup semi-final against Everton, but not before changing the complexion of the tie with a goal and an assist in the second leg. City were second in the Premier League at the time, three points behind leaders Leicester. In seven games without the Belgian, City scored just seven goals, lost four times, including against the Foxes, Tottenham and Manchester United, and fell into a battle to qualify for the Champions League. Since his return, City have won four and drawn one of their five league games, while the 24-year-old played a crucial role in helping beat Paris Saint-Germain to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League. Robbie Savage might not pay to watch him, but plenty of others would.
‘Wayne Rooney’s injury is a disaster for Manchester United,’ wrote Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail in February. Despite the striker’s struggles in 2015, his form at the beginning of the calendar year suggested this could indeed herald a difficult period at Old Trafford. The 30-year-old had scored seven goals and assisted a further three in nine games to start 2016 in fine form ahead of the European Championship, before a knee injury scuppered the England captain’s progress.
But Rooney’s absence did not manifest itself as the ‘disaster’ Ladyman portrayed – not that anyone could have predicted what was to come. United won four of six Premier League games without their skipper, with the remarkable and unpredictable rise of Marcus Rashford inspiring Louis van Gaal’s side to the FA Cup final and a late push for Champions League qualification. The 18-year-old’s form of seven goals in his first 14 games even forced his manager’s hand, with Rooney returning and impressing in a more reserved midfield role. The 18-year-old could not possibly be dropped.
Crystal Palace have enjoyed and endured a season of two halves. There is the first half, or the ‘having a Pardy’ section. After 17 games of the season, Palace sat seventh in the table, with only Leicester, Arsenal and Manchester City winning more games and accruing more points. Then there is the second half, or the ‘Pard knock life’ section. Only Aston Villa have earned fewer points in the subsequent 18 games, and even the division’s bottom club have won more league games than Alan Pardew’s side in 2016.
Palace’s brilliant form coincided with that of Yannick Bolasie; their regression was a direct result of his injury. The Congolese winger missed nine league games from Boxing Day. Palace failed to even score in the first five, lost six of them and drew three. Upon Bolasie’s return from a calf injury, Palace have pulled clear of the relegation zone, and have reached the FA Cup final. Despite missing much of the season, no-one has scored more goals (six) or provided more assists (four) for Palace than Bolasie.
Some players find it difficult to regain their form after returning from a debilitating injury. Some players must be eased back into action, playing for the under 21s before they eventually return. Some players find it impossible to rekindle their former excellence whatever approach they take. Fraser Forster is different.
Forster missed the first half of the season, returning in January after being sidelined for ten months with a rupture of his knee ligaments. Saints were a different outfit in his absence, and sat 12th in the Premier League table by January. Forster returned faster, stronger and better, keeping six consecutive clean sheets in his first six games. Southampton lost eight games in 20, winning six and conceding 24 before Forster returned this season. They have lost just three, won nine and conceded 13 in 15 games with their keeper reinstated.
While both Leicester and Tottenham have avoided long-term injuries throughout the season, aiding their title bids, Spurs did not completely escape misfortune. Mousa Dembele may have only missed two games and the majority of another after suffering an ankle injury in January, but that trio of results has been integral in the title race. The Belgian was missing for a 1-1 stalemate with Everton and a 2-2 draw with Leicester in the FA Cup, and managed only 19 minutes of the Premier League clash with the Foxes just days later as Spurs lost 1-0. It remains the most crucial result of the season, and Dembele’s absence was sorely felt at White Hart Lane. In fact, Dembele has started 15 of Tottenham’s last 21 league games, in which Mauricio Pochettino’s side have won 12 and drawn three. In the six games without the 28-year-old, Tottenham have won one, drawn two and lost three. The forward turned midfielder is vital to the cause.
Manuel Lanzini and Dimtri Payet
No side has drawn more games than West Ham this season. Slaven Bilic’s side have been difficult to beat – only Tottenham and Leicester have lost fewer games – and can overcome any side on their day, but a propensity to draw has cost them qualification for the Champions League.
It is not difficult to pinpoint where West Ham have struggled. After Dimitri Payet tore a ligament in his knee in November, West Ham embarked on a run of one defeat and five draws in seven games. But the PFA Player of the Year nominee was not even the club’s most costly absentee. Manuel Lanzini has suffered two separate injuries to his hamstring and thigh this season, ruling him out for ten games. West Ham’s record in that sequence reads: W2, D6, L2. Considering just eight points separates Bilic’s side from fourth-placed Arsenal, West Ham fans would be forgiven for wondering what might have been.
Liverpool play better when Daniel Sturridge plays. Simplistic thinking? Certainly. Accurate? Most definitely. The striker started the season on the sidelines with a hip injury, returned for three games, was ruled out with a knee problem, returned for four games, suffered a hamstring strain, and has been sparingly used since.
In just 21 games in all competitions, Sturridge has scored 11 goals. Philippe Coutinho (12) is the only player to have scored more for Liverpool this season, and he has played 16 games more. The Reds have lost just two of the 15 games Sturridge has started: the 3-2 defeat to Southampton in which he scored, and the Capital One Cup final penalty shoot out defeat to Manchester City. Liverpool have scored 27 goals in the 12 Premier League games in which Sturridge has featured, and 31 in the 23 he has not. The defence rests.