Arsenal need Hlep

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Arsenal’s injury woes continue as Alexander Hleb – the Gunners’ £10 million summer signing – returned from international duty with Belarus with a rather serious knee injury.

The news continues a recent trend of Arsenal players trying their best to shake off that irritating ‘Invincibles’ tag by getting crocked left and right. Following, Ashley Cole’s bum foot, Sol Campbell continuing to buckle under his own weight, Thierry Henry’s long term crotch injury (or maybe he’s just got his hands on an early copy of Pro Evo 5), Hleb has now joined them in the sick bay.

‘Hleb will be out for six to eight weeks and he is due to have surgery on his knee today,’ Arsene Wenger told reporters.

He continued, ‘We have lost many players over the break when we should have come back refreshed.’

Much has been said over the past couple of seasons about Arsenal’s supposed lack of squad depth. The funding of their new 60,000 seat Emirates stadium, the subsequent lack of spending on new players, and the resulting small squad size has been a hot subject amongst the media, fans and players alike. However, since key players were staying fit the side has still managed to enjoy arguably the most successful period in its history.

As with all good things, it seems like their luck has come to an end. With the loss of club captain and midfield general Patrick Vieira to Juventus, the decline in form of Robert Pires, the aging, ailing Sol Campbell and the doubts over the future of Thierry Henry – the core of this great Arsenal side is looking at its most vulnerable.

To make matters worse, with the unwavering dominance of Chelsea in both the Premiership and the transfer market it seems unlikely that they will be able to adequately replace any of their key players with those of equal quality. Instead, the club will have to gamble on youth (Fabregas, Reyes, Flamini, who admittedly have outstanding potential) or players who have made an impact in other leagues but are unproven in the Premiership or Europe (Hleb).

Wenger’s best attribute as a coach may well be his ability to turn players with potential into superstars, and if the last 18 months are anything to go by – he’s going to have to be at his very best.