Which five players, all ruled out through injury, are most sorely missed by their Premier League clubs?
It is January 25, and almost three months to the day that Arsene Wenger broke his Coq. Arsenal have done a reasonable job of covering his absence, but things have not been the same at the Emirates since. News of his return to full training ought to be met with an open-top bus celebration.
Injuries are nothing new to Arsenal. Captain Santi Cazorla has also been sidelined since November, as was Alexis Sanchez until Sunday. Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky have seats reserved in the treatment room. But the injury suffered by Coquelin against West Brom three months ago has had the most adverse effect on the squad. If Arsenal fail to win the Premier League this season, the eventual victors would do well to donate a winner’s medal to Baggies midfielder Claudio Yacob.
Mathieu Flamini has been tasked with doing a passable impression of his countryman in Coquelin’s enforced absence, but comparison is unflattering for the veteran. Excluding his 14-minute cameo against West Brom, Coquelin made 3.2 tackles per game in 11 appearances before his injury, the most of any Arsenal player with more than five appearances this season; Flamini makes just 1.8, fewer than six of his team-mates. Coquelin made 2.7 interceptions per game, Flamini makes just two. Coquelin made 1.8 successful dribbles per game, fewer than only Alexis Sanchez and Cazorla, Flamini embarks on just 0.2, more than only Kieran Gibbs and Per Mertesacker. Coquelin made 46.9 passes per game at a success rate of 91.5%, Flamini makes 41.5 at 87.2%. Lies, damned lies and statistics. Except these statistics certainly do not lie.
What better way to conclude than with Arsenal’s record with and without their combative Coq? In the 11 games in which Coquelin featured before his injury, Arsenal won seven, drew two, lost two, scored 17 and conceded seven. In the 12 without him, and with Flamini as the midfield enforcer, Arsenal have won one fewer game, drawn one more, lost one more, scored three more goals and conceded six more. Remove Coquelin, and you remove Arsenal’s midfield bite. The 31-year-old Frenchman is the apprentice, the 24-year-old Frenchman is the master.
There are two sides to Crystal Palace this season. There is the Crystal Palace who have beaten Chelsea and Liverpool, and who swept Newcastle aside with a 5-1 thrashing in one of the most impressive attacking performances by any side this campaign. And there is the Crystal Palace whose last league goal from one of their own players – and most recent league win – came in December’s 2-1 win over Stoke. It is no coincidence that that was Yannick Bolasie’s last game before injury.
The Selhurst Park search for a first Premier League goal in open play from one of their strikers has lasted well into 2016, but where Bolasie’s pace, skill and penetration helped mask previous deficiencies, no player has proved capable of replacing the 26-year-old. Only Yohan Cabaye has scored more league goals, with five to Bolasie’s four. That Scott Dann is next in the goalscoring ranks says enough. Palace have now been without Bolasie for six consecutive games. They have failed to win any of them, losing four, and scoring just once, that through an own goal from Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen. Bolasie started 16 of Palace’s 17 fixtures before his injury, with the club winning nine, drawing two and losing six. Only six sides scored more, and only three picked up more points. Alan Pardew will be praying for his imminent return.
By Jurgen Klopp’s very own admission, the German is an impatient man. Such a virtue will be tested to its limits with regards to the fitness of Daniel Sturridge.
The numbers on Sturridge are well-known. Eight separate injuries since signing for Liverpool in January 2013, three of which have been suffered this season alone. Just three Premier League starts this season, but two goals, fewer than only four of his team-mates. The 26-year-old has 72 appearances in all competitions to his name for the Reds, but has missed 67 games through injury.
The 5-4 victory over Norwich on Saturday may suggest a goalscorer is not lacking, but that result stands as the Anfield anomaly. Even with that five-goal haul, eight sides have scored more often. Christian Benteke is Liverpool’s leading league marksman with six goals, a tally which betters the top scorers of only five other sides. Each of those sides – Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Norwich and West Brom – reside in the bottom half of the table. Tape those paper hamstrings, magic sponge those troublesome knees, mend those thighs made of crisps; whatever it takes, just get Sturridge playing again.
It took until the final fixture of the calendar year, 19 games into the Premier League season, but Manchester City finally managed the unthinkable against Leicester on December 29. They kept a clean sheet in the absence of Vincent Kompany.
No one injury has been more detrimental to a squad than Kompany’s calf struggles for City this season. The club captain has featured in nine games, in which City have avoided defeat and kept seven clean sheets, conceding just twice. In 14 games without him, Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis have limped to three clean sheets, and conceded 21 goals. The fitness of team-mate Sergio Aguero is often discussed with regards to the destination of this season’s Premier League title, but it is more likely to be upon the shoulders/calves of Kompany where City’s hopes rest.
Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw. Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw. Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw. For the opening five matches of this Premier League season, those four names evoked nothing but calm among Manchester United player and supporters alike. An unchanged defence, one which kept clean sheets in their first three games, and conceded just three times in five. Only two sides accrued more points by mid-September as Louis van Gaal’s undoubted first-choice defence emerged. Smalling and Blind provided an unlikely ‘big man, little man’ combination in the centre, while Darmian and Shaw’s talents pushing on from full-back were utilised excellently. Then Hector Moreno happened.
The PSV defender’s late challenge in their Champions League clash back in September curtailed a season in which Shaw had finally shown signs of fulfilling his immense potential. Since signing from Southampton in summer 2014, Shaw had found it difficult to adapt at Old Trafford, struggling to adapt to the expectation. But the 20-year-old showed a maturity belying his years in the early stages of the campaign, solidifying his place in the first team and almost guaranteeing a similar role for the England national team. Defensively he was sound, and going forward he was effective.
The injury has hardly caused the problems currently threatening to engulf Van Gaal and United, but they haven’t helped. His absence at left-back has seen five other players start there in his absence, with the club pushed to its limits in search of a short-term replacement.