At what point does an injury list go from worrying to catastrophic? If you ask a Manchester United fan, that point was reached about two weeks ago, but now that the international brea has made that list is even worse, we’ve officially entered “Soccer Gods take the piss” territory.
Already reeling from numerous injuries, United came out of the international break with Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, David De Gea, Angel di Maria, Luke Shaw, and Darren Fletcher all potentially unavailable; or, at least, carrying some niggle into tomorrow’s visit to Arsenal. There’s a good chance United’s Injured XI could beat whatever cobbled together team actually lines up at the Emirates. For most clubs (say, Chelsea with its Spanish contingent), the international break is a time for injured players to recover, but for United, it was a prime opportunity for the squad to double down on its strains, knocks, cuts, tweaks, and tears.
Hilariously, United’s marketing team let it be known over the summer that some Toshiba medical system thingamajiggy had predicted injury free seasons for Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, and Phil Jones. In a surprise to exactly no one, a company that makes shitty inkjet printers hasn’t quite cracked the code of predicting the future. Yes, the Red Devils have suffered cruel luck with injuries, especially in defense, but the lack of available options is still largely a self-inflicted wound. After all, if there’s one thing that Smalling, Evans, Jones, and Rafael da Silva all have in common — besides occasional brain-dead defending — it’s an inability to avoid injury for any lengthy spell. Injury-prone defenders in injury shocker!
Despite this, United spent half the summer chasing former Gunner Thomas Vermaelen, who has yet to play for Barcelona this season because of — you guessed it — injury. And according to recent reports, they are set to finally solve their defensive woes in January by signing Mats Hummels, who is also … well, you get the idea. Remarkably, United is able to apply its reverse Midas touch to defenders who don’t even play for them.
Sturdiness wasn’t the only trait missing in the Red Devils’ back line before the season started. The remaining defenders also collectively lacked composure and top-flight experience. Naturally, United chose to compensate by buying Marcos Rojo, a man who used a rabona as a clearance in a World Cup game. And as for experience, the team added Shaw, who is so young he’s never even heard of Tony Adams. Both Rojo and Shaw are potentially very good players, but not to worry, they’re injured too.
The only thing that should give United hope this weekend is that Arsenal is Arsenaling ahead of schedule. Instead of the usual optimism followed by crushing disappointment, the Gunners have skipped the fun bits and gotten right down to the business of being not that good. Alexis Sánchez is arguably the league’s best player at the moment, but the rest of the team doesn’t look up to much so far. Aaron Ramsey has yet to find last season’s fine form, Danny Welbeck is still only threatening to be a brilliant striker, and the whole team has an air of nearly-there-but-not-quite.
As the saying goes, you fight fire with fire. And by fire, I mean gross incompetence, because Arsenal didn’t do much better than United this past summer in addressing its deficiencies. Funnily enough, both teams’ major failures in the transfer market could cancel each other out this weekend: United’s failure to buy a defender that 1.) has a brain, and 2.) can stay fit (Chris Smalling is 0 for 2), and Arsenal’s failure to buy a striker that can guarantee goals (sorry, Welbz).
The good news is that, with shortcomings on both sides, we should be in for a fun match. Welbeck will either score a gorgeous chip from an improbable angle or bungle a tap-in over the bar from two yards out (probably both), Sánchez will twist the blood of whichever “defender” he finds himself facing, and Wayne Rooney will dive to win a penalty that will turn out to be the winner. Roll on, Saturday.