Statistics never lie about Gilberto
By Roy Collins
Even the the Arsenal fans who have been most critical of the Brazilian star, Gilberto Silva, will join the welcoming committee outside Highbury for his return tomorrow. They may be among those in football who will tell you that there are lies, damned lies and the Opta stats. Yet, even allowing for the odd porky or a wrongly attributed pass, there is no doubting the veracity of the statistics showing that he is the man Arsenal have missed most this season.
Gilberto has been out since coming off injured against Bolton Wanderers on Sept 19 and will be lucky to play even a few more games this season. His problem? A badly damaged back, hardly surprising seeing that the people with the Opta notepads suggest that he has been carrying his team-mates on it when it comes to tackling, intercepting and blocking shots at goals; Arsenal’s failures in these areas have been at the heart of their problems this season.
Gilberto, 28, who played every minute of every game for Brazil in their 2002 World Cup triumph, has also proved a talisman at Highbury, having tasted defeat only five times in 67 league games, the last one against Leeds in May, 2003. He helped keep the back door secure when Arsenal were in their early season pomp, winning all six games that he completed and leading against Bolton when he came off.
All this might be unpalatable to the majority of Arsenal fans who have never warmed to him. But never in his absence has a player’s contribution been more appreciated and it is a huge blow to Arsenal’s hopes of retaining their title that he may not play again this term.
Gilberto, who has been recuperating in Brazil, is at least returning to Highbury. But Arsenal could be out of every competition before he returns to action, if at all, by April at the earliest.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, says: “The news from the specialist is good, but we want to check with our own specialist on Thursday. If the scan is positive, he can restart training, but it will be a 10-12 weeks job, which means that the best of Gilberto would be in mid-April. The bad news for us would be if he needs surgery.
“Yes, we have missed him, but I think the bad luck was that Edu was out at the same time so we had to use [Francesc] Fabregas and [Mathieu] Flamini, who had a lack of experience. Now those two are able to compete.”