Defenceless! Arsenal's injury crisis could derail Champions League hopes

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Mike Hewitt
The Gunners lost two defenders to injury as they were knocked out the FA Cup by a rampant Manchester United side

The knockout blow may not have arrived until late on but Arsenal never truly recovered from being sucker-punched twice by Manchester United in the space of just 149 seconds in Friday night's FA Cup clash at the Emirates.

The old tournament has traditionally proven a happy hunting ground for the Gunners, who have won the trophy 13 times, once more than their illustrious opponents in north London. 

However, the hosts' hopes of lifting the cup for the fourth time in six years effectively ended the moment Sokratis Papastathopoulos was forced off just 20 minutes in after appearing to turn his ankle during an awkward landing. 

The Greek's withdrawal unsettled Arsenal’s already injury-ravaged defence, who almost immediately began to struggle with United’s counter-attacking prowess, and his absence was further compounded by the loss of Laurent Koscielny to a facial injury during the second half.

The game certainly didn't lack drama or talking points, that's for sure. On top of the injuries, there was also Alexis Sanchez netting from an acute angle against his former club – much to the frustration of the home fans, who booed the Chilean throughout.

However, Alexis wasn't Arsenal's tormentor-in-chief. That role belonged to Romelu Lukaku, a surprise selection on the right wing but one that repeated dividends, with the Belgium striker setting up Alexis for the opener, and then Lingard for the quickfire second. 

The two goals came from United's first two shots on target, merely emphasising just how vulnerable Unai Emery’s side can be when their tactics are disrupted mid-game, with both strikes the result of ill-timed attempts at offside traps.

On the plus side, Aaron Ramsey impressed yet again, after shining in last weekend's crucial 2-0 Premier League win over top-four rivals Chelsea.

Aaron Ramsey Arsenal Paul Pogba Manchester United FA Cup

Indeed, it was the Welshman's creativity which helped drag Arsenal back into the game, as he beat Eric Bailly on the left-hand side before seeing his cut-back tapped home by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the box.

However, Koscielny's exit came as another hammer blow to the Gunners' threadbare defence. 

As it stands, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding are both out for the rest of the season, while Sokratis faces a scan on Saturday to learn the extent of his ankle problem, meaning that a defensive acquisition is required before the close of the January transfer window more than ever before.

Of course, Emery has already admitted Arsenal can only make loan signings this month and he now has less than a week to work with. 

Denis Suarez and Christopher Nkunku have been targeted but neither player would fill the gaping holes that Arsenal now have at the back. 

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Dinos Mavropanos is considered a capable back-up but he hasn’t played a competitive match since the back end of last season, which means an experienced addition is vital if the Gunners are to have any chance of catching fourth-placed Chelsea.

An FA Cup exit at the hands of old rivals United will definitely sting. Arsenal have now lost six matches in all competitions at the Emirates against the Red Devils – no opponent has won more games at the ground. 

However, Emery now has bigger problems to resolve, namely a mounting injury list that could well scupper his hopes of securing a return to the Champions League, either by finishing fourth or winning the Europa League.

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