Loss of injured Coquelin a big blow for Arsenal

Saturday features a top of the table match between Manchester United and Leicester City, the surprise team of the Premier League season. James Sharman examines the Foxes' success.

Every week, Sportsnet.ca will chat with Sportsnet soccer commentator James Sharman about the big stories and issues in the Premier League, and preview the weekend’s games.

West Ham United sent Canadian international Doneil Henry on loan to Championship side Blackburn. Is this a good move for the former Toronto FC defender?

Henry did well there last season on loan prior to getting injured. He just wasn’t playing at West Ham, and as is so often, the peripheral young players brought in by former managers often get forgotten when the regime changes, like when Slaven Bilic took over at West Ham. Paul Lambert is now managing Blackburn, and although Aston Villa fans will grimace at this, he is actually a very good defensive coach and will be good for Henry who possesses several tools that should make him a very good central defender one day. Good move for him.

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Newcastle United sits in 17th place in the table, just one point above the drop zone. Should Steve McLaren be worried about losing his job as manager?

His boss is Mike Ashley, so yes he should be. That being said Ashley is also as stubborn as they come, so he might just give McLaren more time than the fans want. Newcastle have been poor this season, with plenty of dead wood remaining on the squad, and the new blood that has arrived is new to the Premier League so there was always going to be a long bedding in process. Results and performance did look better earlier this month, but then that loss to Leicester last week was as bad as we’ve seen all season.

There have been reports of scuffles at training this week as well, and as the Magpies sink closer and closer to the relegation zone you have to fear for McLaren’s job. The reality is, that would be ridiculous—this should be a long-term hire as he needs to build his team his way, and that takes more than one transfer window.

What have you made of Bojan Krkic at Stoke City this season? Is he finally coming good?

He was coming good last season before he got injured, so this great form is expected. Bojan is the poster boy for the new Stoke, a team that plays good football, loves to attack and embraces skilled players. How times have changed. The threat of injury is always going to be a dark cloud hanging over the diminutive playmaker, but when he’s on, he’s as skilled as they come in the league. Ever since his Barcelona days I have enjoyed watching him, and he is one player I truly hope reaches his potential at Stoke, who slowly but surely are winning me over.

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Leicester City hosts Manchester United on Saturday. While Leicester is a great story, a lot of critics doubt their staying power and their ability to contend for a top four spot. How big is this game for them? Is it a chance to prove they’re legit?

It’s a huge game. You can’t take anything away from Leicester, who have been the best team in England since April. However, even Claudio Ranieri would admit they have had a very easy start to the season. Calling it easy is probably unfair, because this is Leicester we’re talking about, but they have avoided all the contenders aside from Arsenal and Spurs so far. That is about to change in a hurry with a nightmare run of games to end 2015 starting with United on Saturday. United have a great defence, so it will be fascinating to see how the Jamie Vardy-Riyad Mahrez combo operates against that system. Every time you think Leicester is going to fall, they answer the bell. It’s been happening all season, so I cannot wait for this match.

Arsenal visits Norwich City on Sunday. How do you see this rash of injuries effecting the Gunners, both in the short- and long-term?

It is nothing Arsenal aren’t used to, their best players are often injured, yet the club still refuses to address that problem each summer. It really is incredible how this team seems to shoot itself in the foot every November with dreadful form. If only it could remain consistent in November than perhaps there would have been more league titles.

Losing Francis Coquelin is a big loss—he has surprisingly turned out to be exactly the type of player Arsenal have been searching for; a bit of bite in that midfield. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez remain the two key players, though, and if ever one of them got hurt long-term there would be serious problems, and given how much football the Chilean has played in 2015, that has to be a major concern.

It is such a strange season, as Arsenal remains one of the top two favourites even with the injuries. But if they can stay safe until January, then surely, definitely, please let them spent some money.

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