We've been reminded of late just how important the presence of first-choice fullbacks can be, with both Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson sidelined through injury. Recent history of that not being terribly surprising aside, the struggles of Aly Cissokho to get up to speed and use of Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan as emergency cover have highlighted the importance of the two men that have spent much of the last few seasons in the starting eleven in their respective positions.
Johnson had returned two weeks ago from a longer layoff, and with Enrique expected back in the near future, we'd expected to have something close to a full strength back line around the time of the Arsenal match. Enrique's recovery was delayed, however, and Johnson was a late scratch--hence the use of Flanagan--with an unspecified illness. Today the club have elaborated on the England international's reasons for missing out, attributing it to an infection that caused significant pain in his face and jaw.
From the official website:
Shortly before the Barclays Premier League clash kicked off at the Emirates Stadium, the 29-year-old was admitted to hospital after suffering severe pain on the right side of his face and jaw. Initial scans showed signs of a localised infection - however, the England international was subsequently discharged and returned home on Saturday evening.The club's medical staff now expect the Reds' No.2 to recover in time to be in contention for Liverpool's next match, at home to Fulham in the Premier League next weekend.
Thankfully it doesn't sound terribly serious, or at least not as serious as the string of infections that worked their way through Steven Gerrard's body a few years back. If he recovers in time he starts, no question, but if not it leaves Brendan Rodgers with another challenge in terms of selection. Fulham at Anfield don't pose nearly the same threat as Arsenal at the Emirates, but it's still a far better prospect to have Glen Johnson available than not.
Again, the timing of the international break could be beneficial, giving both Johnson and Enrique time to get back to full strength (assuming the former isn't selected for England's friendlies against Chile and Germany on November 15th and 19th) in time for the derby. If that's the case, and Philippe Coutinho also gets back up to speed, we could finally be looking at a full strength squad for the first time this season.