LONDON (AFP) – Arsenal’s bad luck with defensive injuries was summed up when the welcome return of Sokratis in the midweek Europa League victory against BATE Borisov came at the expense of another setback for Laurent Koscielny.
Manager Unai Emery hopes French defender Koscielny, who returned from a long-term achilles injury in December last year, will recover in time to face struggling Southampton at the Emirates Stadium tonight (10pm Brunei time).
The Arsenal boss is desperate for his side to discover a degree of consistency, which has been missing since they visited St Mary’s Stadium for the first meeting of the season between the two clubs in mid-December.
Manchester United, currently occupying fourth place in the Premier League, are just one point ahead of Emery’s side and face high-flying Liverpool tonight, with sixth-placed Chelsea involved in the League Cup final against Manchester City, giving Arsenal a chance to clamber back into the top four.
But to do so, they must avoid a repeat of the display that allowed Southampton to claim a 3-2 victory that brought an end to Arsenal’s 22-game unbeaten run, which had helped Emery establish himself at his new club.
Since then results have been anything but steady, while the manner of that defeat highlighted defensive flaws that have become more prominent as the Gunners attempt to keep pace with their rivals in the battle to finish in the Champions League places.
In the 14 games since then they have won just seven times in all competitions, while they have alternated between victory and defeat in their past nine outings.
Frequent disruptions to the line-up, particularly in defence, have done nothing to help.
“We have to say first that we had a lot of injured players,” said Sokratis.
“We need to improve, we need to work harder but we have also to be lucky and not have a lot of injuries because when you do it is difficult for the team, for you and when you come back the difference is not the same when you change every week.”
The lack of instinctive understanding among Emery’s defenders has been apparent on too many occasions.
The return of the Greece international strengthens the coach’s options but the presence of Koscielny is also important to their aspirations, given Shkodran Mustafi’s indifferent form.
Stephan Lichtsteiner, 35, has appeared vulnerable at right-back with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, absent through illness against BATE, offering more pace on that flank.
While Emery seeks stability at the back, he has more options further forward, with Mesut Ozil returning for only his second start since December 26 last year in the Europa League last-32 tie on Thursday night.
The relationship between player and coach has come under scrutiny but Sokratis said the players were behind the former Germany international.
“All the team, all the players are behind him and we need a good Mesut to go forward because we know that he is very important for us,” said the defender