Arsène Wenger has admitted he has pushed Johan Djourou more than he would have wanted, as he considers whether to hand the 18-year-old central defender Ignasi Miquel his senior debut in Arsenal’s FA Cup third-round replay at Leeds United tonight.
Djourou, 24 yesterday, missed virtually the whole of last season because of knee ligament damage and Wenger said recently that he dared not play him more than once a week, as he still needed to be treated with a degree of caution.
Yet Wenger’s hand has been forced somewhat by the hamstring injury that Sébastien Squillaci suffered in the original tie against Leeds at the Emirates Stadium. With Thomas Vermaelen a long-term casualty with a mystery achilles problem, Wenger has started Djourou in all five of the club’s fixtures since New Year’s Day and the Swiss looked tired and below par in the fifth – the 3-0 victory at West Ham United on Saturday.
Wenger says that he has made no tangible progress in the search for a new central?defensive signing and the risks associated with pressing Djourou into another start at Elland Road are obvious.
The manager was asked whether he had played Djourou more than he would have liked recently. “Exactly, it has changed through necessity,” Wenger replied. “The plan with the three centre-backs – we were all right because we could rotate. But that has all gone now. It is always the same two so let’s hope we get through.”
Miquel, a Barcelona-born Spanish youth international and the captain of Arsenal’s reserves, was an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw with Leeds 10 days ago and again in last Wednesday’s 1-0 Carling Cup semi-final first-leg defeat at Ipswich Town. Wenger, however, is conscious that Djourou might need a rest and, although Leeds will present a tough test at a sold?out Elland Road, there is no doubt that he views the Premier League visit of Wigan Athletic on Saturday as the bigger game, and he wants Djourou ready for that. He reported that Squillaci “could be available in two weeks”.
Wenger has said that he is in the market for a new centre-half this month but so far, he has drawn a blank. “It is still nowhere,” he said. “We get many offers but at the moment, nothing concrete.
“I cannot tell you at the moment whether it will be a substantial signing or cover because it has to click in my head and nothing happened yet. If you look at the centre-backs we have, they are quality: Djourou, Squillaci, [Laurent] Koscielny, Vermaelen. The quality of the player coming in, what will it be? It is a complement of the players we have already? It’s very difficult to predict.”
Wenger will rotate his personnel against Leeds but he confirmed that the goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny would continue; Lukasz Fabianski has suffered a setback in his recovery from a shoulder injury and he is also expected to miss the Wigan game and next Tuesday’s return leg against Ipswich. Meanwhile, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has joined Cardiff City on loan until the end of the season.