Injuries no excuse

Posted by John Cross

Now comes the test for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The injuries are mounting up, the games are piling up, and Arsenal's resources are being stretched to the limit.

Olivier Giroud is definitely out against Cardiff on New Year's Day. He is hoping to be back for the FA Cup tie with Tottenham on Saturday.

Kieran Gibbs is also out with a thigh problem, which interrupts an impressive run of form that has put him in the England picture. Add to that Mesut Ozil being out after a trip to see a shoulder specialist, and Aaron Ramsey has also been ruled out for three weeks with a calf problem.

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Wenger listed a long list of injuries and doubtfuls on Tuesday, which made the Emirates physio room sound like Emergency Ward 10.

Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Thomas Vermaelen and Tomas Rosicky are all doubtful. But I have a funny feeling you will still see a very strong Arsenal lineup, with the big changes being Lukas Podolski up front and Nacho Monreal at left-back.

There is a fine line for a manager to try to play mind games with the opposition while not giving his players an excuse.

Arsenal are missing big players because Gibbs, Ramsey, Giroud and Ozil are all starters and guaranteed first choices. But more than anything else, I think they are just carrying some bumps and bruises. It's that time of year. Grueling, tough and bruising.

Arsenal have had four games over the festive period. If eight points was the target among realists, they have gained seven already (draw with Chelsea, wins at West Ham and Newcastle) and three are still up for grabs.

They face Cardiff -- a club gripped by a crisis after the sacking of Malky Mackay -- in what looks like a home banker.

But don't see it like that because, rather than just injuries, the other players are tired, weary and carrying knocks. Arsenal also expect to win, should win, and that's when teams slip up the most. So the danger is to focus on injuries and then blow the chance.

Podolski will be desperate to take his opportunity after seizing his chance as a super-sub against West Ham.

Podolski has power, pace and a real hunger after being sidelined. He is hugely popular with fans, even if Giroud's all-around game will be missed.

Monreal will also be desperate to impress because he's entering a World Cup year as a backup player, behind Gibbs.

But Arsenal do have the numbers to maintain a title challenge, and the one thing they must do is keep their belief, so victory over Cardiff is vital.

The other problem for Wenger is that there is no chance that Arsenal can rest players against Tottenham, even though it's in the FA Cup.

The fans expect victory against the old enemy, and to that end maybe some players will be rested and given a breather against Cardiff.

The Bluebirds have so many problems themselves. A madcap owner, a caretaker manager and players who don't know what the future holds. Cardiff were also pegged back by Sunderland after going two up.

For Arsenal, this match has home banker written all over it, and there is no room for injury excuses.


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