Cheque Mate

I’ve followed football on and off the last two years and I’ve got to admit that things are getting pretty interesting in Manchester especially.

Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola? Both interesting managers, adversaries going back to their shared time in Spain, managing two of the biggest clubs in La Liga, now battling it out in Manchester. Last year wasn’t Guardiola’s year, as it turned out to be the first barren season he had ever had in his managerial career. This season things are different. He is atop the Premier League and after a few more games it is likely he will start rotating his squad and play the second team, the youngsters in the Premier League, leaving Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero and the gang of Sane et al to play in the Champions League in May. It’s a clever strategy, you’ve got to admit. Tie up the domestic league title first, then get your first team rested for the biggest prize in Europe.

Jose Mourinho got in to Europe via the back door of the Europa League champions. This year he is looking up to Guardiola’s table status, seemingly not able to catch up. But at least he’s further on than Chelsea’s group, who may be realising that while Diego Costa was a rough brute, he at least scared and bullied opposing centre backs. Alvaro Morata is skilled but too nice.

How will City react after their latest setback? Leroy Sane, the talented left winger, won’t be making any marauding runs down the flank after being the victim of an ugly challenge in Cardiff. It’s like Liverpool without Mo Salah. But their capture of Laporte could be interesting, along with the impending return of Benjamin Mendy.

And how much have the two Manchester teams spent between them this season. A lot, a lot of money. Along with Barcelona and Paris St Germain, you could easily find transfers over a billion pounds this season. Just blame Paul Pogba, United’s 100 million Euros man, who broke the barrier to purchases. Will football be a game of wallets or skill?

Being creative from within

How do you stop a bucket from leaking? In the world of Arsene Wenger, it seems you keep trying to fill it with more water.

If you believe that to be a silly analogy, wait till you see it in reality. The Gunners, out of the top four spot despite splashing out nearly fifty million on Alexander Lacazette, have lost Alexis Sanchez, but still don’t believe they have enough firepower in the squad. Olivier Giroud is still languishing in the wings, Theo Walcott has gone to Everton, but Arsene Wenger is now courting Borussia Dortmund disenchanted striker Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang, a bad boy with a reputation that may disrupt the locker room atmosphere more than the Alexis Sanchez transfer saga.

If you have been following the Arsenal team for a while, even as a neutral, you would realise that the problem is not that Arsenal have a problem scoring goals. The major problem they have is that they concede them at the back, in the latter stages of the game. Even with a 2-0 lead in the last ten minutes you can never really relax, because you know that the moment they concede one, their mental fragility means they will almost end a match with a draw. Ever seen the Arsenal defending in the last ten minutes? It is like pinball. Just whack it away, catch some breath, await the next attack. How could Steve Bould still be in a job?

The Gunners had been linked with West Brom captain Jonny Evans, who learnt his craft at Manchester United. Evans has also been linked with other clubs but at the moment, with only six points separating the ten teams in the bottom half of the league, it is unlikely the Baggies would let such an influential player leave at an important time like this. Evans has an escape clause in his contract, he can leave if they are relegated and so the club appears more likely to keep him until the summer. They would get the same amount then for him as they would now, so it is no point disrupting their team and scrambling to find another replacement in an ever closing transfer window.

This is what the money buys you, you see. It is not just the player itself, it is also to pay you for the inconvenience of seeking a replacement. The teams that are better at doing that, such as Burnley, groom players at different positions and sell them out to other teams without difficulty. Harry Maguire left to join Everton and Burnley are actually in a better table position after him. Nick Pope has been between the sticks for a few months and has established himself well. Will their previous goalkeeper – um, anyone remember him? – be sold on for more cash?

Arsenal should have looked to shore up at the back instead of trying to buy more firepower at the front. Apart from Jonny Evans, was there actually no one across all the leagues in Europe that actually interested them? You might argue that in their wings they actually have Callum Chambers, who featured for other Premier League teams last year, as well as Rob Holding, who has played in the league. Perhaps they are looking at this stage for someone who actually has Premier League experience because time is against them and they cannot afford to groom someone foreign from scratch.

The problem with playing with a back three is that of the current likely defence of Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny and Skhodran Mustafi, only Monreal seems to be still fast enough to catch up with the zippy wingers and strikers of the other teams. Mustafi has on occasion tripped over his own feet, and is not good playing the ball. Koscielny has the personality of a warrior and a captain, but his skills appear on the decline. The same goes for Per Metersacker, whose height would have been useful would he have been younger and less injury prone. But Monreal, a traditional left back plays like one and perhaps is more offensive minded, playing like a wingback more than anything else. Have you noticed how many times Monreal gets forward? It seems like at Arsenal everyone wants to get forward and score, but on the counter not everyone wants to run back, or has the pace to. Not everyone is as zippy as Hector Bellerin, who has attracted attention from Juventus, and even Granit Xhaka, the hard man reputedly protecting the back four, is more interested in the long range pot shots than the marking, as he displayed against Liverpool.

Arsenal really need someone good with the ball, comfortable with playing it out, not panicking and whacking it out. Can they get someone like that?

Actually they already do.

Here’s an idea worth considering. Instead of leaving him even further down the striker’s pecking order, why not get Olivier Giroud retrained as a centerback? He already plays in that part of the pitch anyway, just at the opposing end. As a striker, he is comfortable holding the ball at his feet, and he does not panic. At 31, he has the maturity of a leader. And he is good at heading the ball and winning it. With Giroud, you get a proven international at the back (yes, I know Koscielny and Mustafi too) but with presence. He is also quick on his feet. If you think the idea of centre-backs and centre-forwards rotating positions is ludicrous, you only need to go back as far as Paul Warhurst, who played centre-forward despite being a centre-back for Sheffield Wednesday. Called into action after injuries to the squad, he was a prolific scorer too.

You have to feel for Giroud. Dropped down the pecking order after Sanchez and Lacazette and now even the departure of Walcott is appears that Arsene Wenger will not even trust him to lead the line. Getting him to play centre-back would be a way of getting him in the game, getting someone with presence to shore up the line, and improving the Arsenal defence enough to win games.

It may be a radical idea. Think of it as a creative idea. Do you think the Arsenal team need more creativity by going after Aubemayang? No, they just need to be creative within their ranks to find solutions.

Star Wars: A New Hope

You know the feeling.

You go out regularly with a group of friends – perhaps you are part of a group or club like Scouts that meets at weekends.

And maybe one of the people in your group like the leader has bad body odour that affects the group. It’s the sort of thing that gets tolerated but uncomfortable. Within the group no one dares to say anything about it, because it is after all a sensitive topic.

So you get on with it, and get on with doing the group things, and the discomfort is tolerated.

And the members don’t say anything also because the group leader actually has good skills to impart and leads the group well.

Things go on fairly smoothly, but one day after someone makes the casual observation, things take on a negative tinge. The leader, offended, decides he will transfer to another group at another location when the year is out, or whenever there is a vacancy. You all get on with your activities, but it seems a bit like following through the motions, enduring the smell, and waiting for the leader to leave. The leader is in demand because of his skills, and there are frequent calls asking if he would like to leave, but things never really materialise. One day he is, the next day he isn’t, and instead of focusing on your activities, you all live with the uncertainty of your leader’s situation. It becomes a distraction. In regional competitions, your group under performs under this cloud of negativity.

As it turns out there is another group elsewhere with a slightly disenchanted individual with whom the leaders agree to a mutual swap. And when that day happens, your group is glad, because the smell is no longer there, and also because the leader’s situation is no longer a distraction. You can get on with group activities, and when the new leader arrives, not fully integrated yet into the group, existing members are keen to impress, to show their abilities, and there is a positive drive to group activities. Perhaps in the next few regional competitions, this positive spirit comes with a run of good results.

Such is life at Arsenal without Alexis Sanchez. A breath of fresh air.

Arsenal followed up their 4-1 demolition earlier in the Premier League of Crystal Palace with a 2-1 win over arch enemies Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. If this is what jettisoning Alexis Sanchez brings you, then perhaps they should have got his situation resolved earlier in the summer. Who knows where they might have been now? Sure, Pep Guardiola’s men would still be occupying the top – no change to that, but perhaps Arsenal would have been in a better position then outside the top four, looking up Tottenham’s bottom.

While Arsenal are on winning ways, and negativity towards their manager is forgotten, the same cannot be said of Antonio Conte. Last year, he was favoured manager, just like Arsene Wenger was when he won the league titles earlier in his Arsenal career. This year, Conte is not looking great.

There is a story about how Antonio Conte revamped the pre-game diet at Chelsea. Doing away with high carbohydrate foods like pasta and egg and replacing them with nuts, seeds and other foods that prevented players from carrying extra weight in games, and giving them the sharpness over their opponents. When you are winning, that looks great. When you are losing, that looks like rabbit food.

Bottom of the table Swansea found a way to win 1-0 against Liverpool. What a fantastic result! I was hoping that they would be able to manage that against all odds and they did. And why was I hoping for that, you may ask? It’s because the gap between the bottom HALF of the table and the bottom team is a mere six points.

A two game swing with still plenty of games to play for. Lose a couple, and you could be in the bottom two. The relegation places will change positions faster than the six chair challenge in X Factor.

Hot feet before they even got wet

You’ve got to hand it to Phil Neville.

Brother of the failed Valencia manager Gary Neville, with a grand total of one game of managerial experience, at a club he partly owns (Salford), you can’t have said he was that good. But how did he end up as manager of the England women’s football team? Was it because Ryan Giggs was no longer available? Neville had one game more management experience than his former Manchester United team mate, and it seemed like England were trying to emulate the Welsh Football Association in plucking Giggs out of nowhere to manage the Welsh football team. At least Ryan Giggs is a proven winner on the field. Off the field, well … he is reportedly despised by his own family for his affair with his brother’s missus … but that’s his life out of football and no one is judging.

Philip Neville? Now managing the England women’s football team, replacing Mark Sampson who was fired for his comments around Eniola Aluko, supposedly racial ones. Sampson lasted a few games after Hope Powell left the job, but while it was controversial, at least it didn’t surface until well in the job. Neville? First day on the job, and he’s already in trouble/

Why did the FA choose to appoint Neville despite knowing he had tweeted sexist comments about women on social media? One of his tweets on the account @fizzer18 said “When I said morning men I thought the women would of been busy preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making the beds”, which somehow seemed to get 3555 retweets and 1858 likes. Other users also mentioned comments in which he joked he had “just battered the wife”.

More worrying, how is it someone wth no meaningful experience, let alone experience in women’s football, was chosen to lead England? In addition, despite the recent hoo-hah about the Rooney Rule, which states the FA should interview one applicant from various backgrounds, this was not the case. Neville was simply appointed manager.

It is difficult to accept there were no black, Asian, minority ethnic or female applicant. How is it possible that the FA could not promote a prestigious job to anyone else from these backgrounds? And how is it that Neville’s lack of record in management qualified him above other candidates?

And how did the FA miss the background checks?

The FA has not had much luck in appointing managers for either the men or women’s team. Mark Sampson’s problems are well documented. Sam Allardyce lasted one game before being caught out by his comments about agents and bungs.

But those short tenures before encountering problems are long in comparison to Neville’s. He has not even got his feet warm in the job and already he is facing problems on the first day of his job. The first day!

Is there a vendetta against him, like there seemed to be with Ryan Giggs? The Welshman’s appointment was similarly troubled by accusations he had not played enough for his country – even old team mate Clayton Blackmore had to defend him by saying it was Alex Ferguson who stopped him from turning up for Welsh friendlies.

Neville has since deleted his Twitter account, but the historic social media comments, which border on the misogynistic and sexist, do not hide the fact that it is seemingly inappropriate for such a man to be managing the England women’s team. Would you had made Hitler mayor of Palestine?

Despite all this, it has been mentioned that Neville will not be charged for those remarks.

Charged? If those remarks were punishable as chargeable offences, then he should have been charged before he was put in charge of the women’s team.

Chargeable, no. Inappropriate, yes. And the FA could have saved itself a lot of trouble by appointing an ex-player from the women’s team, instead of just settling for a high-profile figure.

Too high-profile, it appears.

Sanchezzzzzzz and er … Ozil

Is the saga of Alexis Sanchez ever going to end? Finally, the transfer that never was in the summer may be replaced by another transfer that … well, is still in the works at the time of writing. But the media reports about him are starting to get boring now … he would in retrospect be one of the most tweeted about in January, but it’s kind of dragged on a bit unnecessarily too long.

You can see why Arsenal’s form have stagnated – despite spending in the summer, they are still languishing out of the top four spots, a place they traditionally occupy. The transfer talk have definitely affected them and they should have just let him go and got £65 million then. Now, Sanchez will probably go for £35 million or £30 million. Has he contributed £30 million worth of effort to the team in the last six months? At a stretch, maybe he has – in the run up to the transfer window, the audition season – he has earned Arsenal a few wins and draws. But it is arguable that the talk surrounding him may have cost the team too.

The Arsenal board and Sanchez are like two grown ups going through a long drawn-out divorce battle, and the Arsenal kids are suffering while they have to live with the scrutiny of the various hypothetical situations playing out in their minds.

One particular kid is suffering. Mesut Ozil. Reportedly on the radar for Manchester United a few months ago, it is unlikely that he would be reunited with Sanchez. The hype around Manchester United landing Sanchez has almost certainly reduced the worth of Mesut Ozil in the eyes of United, and it is unlikely Ozil is going there anytime soon. Expect to see Ozil bearing the brunt of criticism again, talk of his poor body language, and him bearing the weight of the criticism directed at the team. When he remains at Arsenal, he will have turned out to be the child in the custody battle sent to live with the parent he didn’t really like.

And in a few months time, Ozil will become Sanchez 2.0, as the situation around his contract becomes the next thorny issue.

Will the form of the Arsenal team recover with the impending departure of Sanchez, the end of the custody battle? Not with Ozil.

But there may have been a shrewd deal done to get Henrikh Mkitaryan. The Armenian has skills similar to Ozil, and it may be Arsenal trying to get a replacement in early. It would be interesting though to see Ozil and Mkitaryan on opposite wings, supporting a lone striker like Lacazette, while Kolasinac and Bellerin roam the flanks. A back three protected by Xhaka and Ramsay.

And if Ozil goes, where would he be off to? Apart from China, and Paris St Germain, the usual pay day pit stops, and Fenerbahce, where his Turkish roots might endear him to the public, Ozil is likely to remain in the Premier League. And there is that one team that is so full of attacking talent, but in need of backup in case their talisman is injured; a team that needs a competent passer to deliver the balls to the attacking personnel.

Manchester City.

And Ozil would still get to live in a big city, buzzing from the adoration of fans, getting recognition for his work but without the blame that comes with losing, because they don’t lose very often, and there are plenty of others to share the blame around.

Pep Guardiola would love Ozil to make long passes the way Kevin de Bruyne does.

But Pep wouldn’t be the only one happy to have Ozil in a blue shirt.

Think about it.

Manchester City vs Manchester United.

Former teammates Sanchez vs Ozil.

Mourinho vs Pep.

Egos vs egos.

It could keep media writers in employment for years.

So Ozil to Manchester City is the summer deal that everyone wants to happen.

So good it couldn’t wait

A guy so good and so respected he got propelled to the top coaching job in his country immediately as a coaching debut, without having coached anywhere else.

It’s like Theo Walcott going to the World Cup without having played a single Premier League game.

Just hope Giggs’ doesn’t end the same way.

I still maintain the Gunners could have pulled off a coup if they had gone for Giggs.

Sub-plots of all sorts

Arsene Wenger must at least feel some tinge of happiness.

Not because his team are still in the top six and that the chasing pack led by Burnley haven’t made up much ground.

Not because the star of the show, Alexis Sanchez, looks to have his future at the club resolved, within 48 hours, in Wenger’s words.

Not because Jack Wilshere, before his most recent injury, looked capable of reproducing the form he had in the past, and could replace the want-away Mesut Ozil.

No, no, Arsene Wenger is happy because Manchester City lost to Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola’s team headed off to Anfield on Sunday. On paper it looked like a treat for attacking football fans, with the usual sub-plots. How would Liverpool survive post-Coutinho? The Brazilian had been an instrumental part of their season so far, and now that their Fab Four of Coutinho, Mo Salah, Roberto Firminho and Sadio Mane were now relegated to a Terrific Three, how would things be? It looked as if Liverpool would suffer. But the team managed without Coutinho, who like Alexis Sanchez, played with the form of his life in the run up to the transfer window. And they eked out a win against the City visitors, in a game of goals, edging the Blues out 4-3.

The Reds actually led 4-1 at one point, before the Disappointing Defence, the back four, leaked goals in to help City muster some form of comeback. But they survived.

But why is Arsene Wenger happy that Manchester City lost?

It’s because the record of an undefeated season stays with the Arsene Invincibles. Wenger still holds a record that looks ever increasingly difficult to emulate, and his name will still be long mentioned in Premier League history.

Few can argue that Wenger has been about records recently. He stayed on at the end of last season to surpass Alex Ferguson’s record of Premier League games managed, and in this day and age of changing managers that looks like one other record that is unlikely ever to be surpassed.

Ironically, one of the players that helped ensure his record for going undefeated in a season was the ex- Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who may increasingly see a more influential role with Coutinho gone.

A few weeks ago I predicted that the longer Alexis Sanchez’s transfer saga dragged on, the worse it would be for all parties. He is no longer seen with the same eyes by City, and I also predicted another team might swoop in. Lo and behold, now Manchester United are interested. It would make for interesting sub-plots.

Ozil and Sanchez combining at Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho getting one up on his arch rival Pep Guardiola by obtaining Sanchez’s signature.

Arsene Wenger facing the ire of the Arsenal faithful by selling United a player, despite saying he would not sell to them after Robin van Persie.

Some of the Arsenal faithful feel you shouldn’t believe anything Wenger says nowadays. Last season he was coy with the press, toying around about the negotiations with his contract. And while he later admitted at the end that the protracted saga affected his team’s form, he doesn’t seem to have learnt with regards to Alexis Sanchez. One of the reasons the team is sliding further away of the top four, is that speculation plants doubt, and doubt affects form. What are Giroud and Lacazette thinking? “After all the effort we are continuing to show, why are we still behind Grumpy Sanchez?” Why is Arsene Wenger still wooing Sanchez in the hope he might stay, like an old lecherous landlord whose advances to a young female tenant – who is determined to move out when her tenancy agreement expires – have been continually rebuffed?

Wenger really needs to go, and as I have suggested, the club should bring in Ryan Giggs. He is unproven at the top level, but the Arsenal faithful will give him time because he has winning in his veins. He is young, he has energy, and is a refreshing breath of fresh air in the rank Arsenal boardroom.

And Giggs has a point to prove after being overlooked for the manager’s role at his old club.

If Manchester United do one on Arsenal by taking Sanchez and Ozil, then Arsenal could do no worse than by appointing one of the United winners to kick-start the revolution.

Dwell on that for a while.

And the new manager is …

Where would you find the team “al”?

That’s Arsenal without Arsene.

Is Arsene Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal finally coming to an end? Last weekend’s defeat to Nottingham Forest, embarrassed 4-2 by a club with only a caretaker manager in his second game must certainly seem that this is the last season for a manager whose popularity is slowly dying, even among the most hardcore of Arsenal fans. And having surpassed Alex Ferguson’s record of most Premier League matches played, there is nothing really much for Wenger to aim for. He could try to have the best winning percentage, but he would have to win a lot more than he is winning now to have a chance of doing so – and it looks highly unlikely.

The only thing left for Wenger is either number of games managed – but he is about five hundred short of the 2155 set by Ferguson from 1974-2013, and he would need around ten seasons to accomplish that. Either that or he could manage teams in different parts of the world, or find one to manage in the summer break of the Premier League to shorten that length of time.

Of course, it would help if Arsenal were a top team, playing Champions League Football and competing on various fronts. But Sunday’s defeat against lower opposition was surely enough for everyone – ex-players, the board, the fans – to see that the longer Arsene Wenger stays, the longer he hurts his reputation, and the longer he causes Arsenal to slide.

The last two seasons have been a difficult time. Last season light aircraft were flying the Wenger Out banners and they would have done the same this year, had Manchester City not so dominated the league that everyone else is fighting for the top four spots. The thing is, even the most hardcore of Arsenal fans looks at the team and sees overpaid, underachieving players. It is not their fault that they are underachieving. It is just that the manager doesn’t really motivate them to want to do well.

Arsene Wenger is not the kind of inspirational manager to be prowling the sidelines, gee-ing his team up in the most combative manner. He is reserved, a man more often seen to sit on the bench, rather than in the technical area shouting instructions to his team. He is less manager now, more executive coach. Has he, after two decades at Arsenal, lost the confidence of the team? The star player is vehement he will not sign a contract, the next best player is uncertain over his future, yet all Wenger does is live in a world inside his own head, so consumed by his own thoughts. The less vocal members of the group – Wellbeck, Giroud, Bellerin – perhaps seemingly tolerate Wenger’s presence, because he is such an authority figure that no one dares say the unmentionable and risk being another pariah like Alexis Sanchez. But the truth is, Arsenal are in decline, their ex-players are calling for Wenger to leave, the fans want him to go – depending on whether the team performs or not – and the players are not motivated by him.

The thing with Arsenal is that for all the talent they are stocked with, and all the internationals on their bench, they are not performing and this year no one even cares much if they get into the top four or not. In the past there was always hope that Arsenal might win the league, that their summer signings might help, that the year might always be that year, but they have always gone on a cold weather collapse. Lose in late November, from second to fourth, slide further within the top four in Feburary, and that has always been a source of the Arsenal fan’s disappointment – that the team do not live up to potential. In previous seasons they have always had Champions League football to blame, being stretched by a competition they would never win, but found redemption to stave off the execution by winning FA Cups.

This year, even without Champions League football, and with less matches, Arsenal have always had a bad November and December, are still losing to minor teams. Now without the FA Cup to hid behind, perhaps the patience with Wenger is starting to run thin.

Wenger hasn’t really learnt from his mistakes of the previous season. The uncertainty behind his contract last season influenced his team in the tail end of the season, so much so that their neighbours Tottenham overtook team in the standings. Not Premier League champions? Never mind. No Champions League football? Never mind. FA Cup winners? Who cares. But placing below Tottenham? It is the ultimate insult an Arsenal fan has to bear, being ribbed about it for at least a year. What’s more, Tottenham are still having a bad season by their standards, in fifth while they were second last year, but are still better than Arsenal in terms of points. They should have resolved Sanchez’s contractual situation in the summer, selling him off instead of letting him remain under a cloud. Sanchez has the potential to be a divisive figure. He pulls the team, but many despise him for his attitude. When he scored against Crystal Palace, only half of his team mates celebrated with him. But Wenger has to rely on him because he is such a star player. They might be further down the table in eighth or ninth without the heroics of Sanchez and Ozil, but had they sold them, they might not have been much worse.

Even if Sanchez had been sold in the summer with no replacement, things might have turned out better. He is like the Christmas present you don’t really want but have to keep because it was from your grandad Bertie.

How many recognised strikers do Arsenal have? Olivier Giroud. Theo Walcott. Lacazette. Welbeck. Sanchez. Ozil. Walcott, a signing from Southampton in his teens – he was so good that he went to the World Cup in the summer under Sven-Gora Erikkson before he had made an appearance for Arsenal – has had his development so curtailed and stunted that he is playing for Arsenal B, and not doing a good job of it all, considering how the team lost 4-2 to minnows Forest. Even Southampton are considering taking him back. How terrible it would be, to go back to the team he once played for, without having made much progress in the interim? Embarrasing.

It may be after the game with Chelsea, the semi-final of the Carabao club, that the full weight of resentment against Wenger is seen.

What can Wenger learn from former Stoke manager Mark Hughes? If you rest a team ahead of a key game, you’d better win the key game. And if the team has to lose in fhe key game, then don’t be embarrassed by a big scoreline. Hughes found himself at a difficult situaton losing 5-0 to Chelsea, then 1-0 to Newcastle, before losing in the FA Cup and being dumped by Stoke.

Wenger has already lost the FA Cup game. Recently he lost a few Premier League games against weaker opposition. A further loss to Chelsea would cement his fate.

A good clearout might be good this summer. The central defence is either aging or inexperienced. There is Mertersacker or Koscielny playing, two aging warriors past their prime for Arsenal. Nacho Monreal is perhaps the most solid at a back three, while Calum Chambers and Rob Holding are inconsistent. Is it surprising that the defence of Arsenal is what lets it down? As with Liverpool, they can have a good attacking threat with the likes of Giroud, Lacazette et al, but when your defence leaks in goals and you are prone to conceding at set pieces you will lose points. It used to be thought that even if Arsenal were two goals up with ten minutes to play, they might just find a way to drop points. These days, it is still never sure. Arsenal may have played out a 2-2 draw with Chelsea but don’t forget after Hector Bellerin scored the equalising goal in injury time, Chelsea nearly won and rattled the bar after that. Arsenal just switched off and nearly paid for that!

Who have Arsenal got in the midfield? Ramsey, Wilshere, Kolasinac, Xhaka and Bellerin are a pretty good unit, but what would Wenger do now with Elneny and Coquelin?

A clearout would do some good. Start rebuilding the team. And you know’ what? There might be the losing of games, but really, Arsenal have lost so many and are really a top-table team, that the fans won’t really care. In fact, if the fans adjust their expectations to feel they won’t win every game, even against lower opposition, they might just get less annoyed with an underperforming team. But if you really want to start rebuilding and a clear-out, start with Wenger and Steve Bould.

Who would you bring in? Mikel Arteta? The former Gunners captain, who so impressed in his Everton days but found himself often injured, is now a Manchester City assistant coach. Wenger recommends him but anyone wanting a change is unlikely to want the scent of Arsene around. Arteta however does fulfil the criteria of the kind of manager the Gunners need. Young, emotive – the kind of manager who might swing a ballboy around when they score a winner. Not the kind of guy that is often seen fumbling with the zip of his raincoat.

This season could be Wenger’s last. In fact, I predict at the end of the season that Arsenal will have a big clear out and Wenger will be in the boardroom. The hunt for Arsenal’s manager starts now, but the position is so tainted, as the leader of an underperforming bunch, that top managers might avoid it. Just like top players seem to shun Arsenal.

So who do you get to replace Arsene Wenger? You want a young manager keen to prove himself. You want a young manager used to winning. You want a young manager with good playing credentials. The problem is, if you look within the organisation, you won’t find someone who fits the bill. You don’t want an ex-player turned pundit because everyone knows all they do is talk and they are rubbish managers. Just look how Alan Shearer faired, unable to prevent Newcastle from being relegated in four games. Look at Gary Neville, failed at Valencia. And really, despite it being ideal that the new manager be Arsenal through and through, the fans don’t really care if the new manager never played for Arsenal. Because Arsenal in recent years have been on a slide that being Arsenal through and through just means being, really, a loser.

Arsenal need a manager who is young, has the drive, the vision, and is equally keen to demonstrate his qualities, instead of the current one who is content to sit on his laurels.

Arsenal don’t need a manager with Arsenal in his veins. They need one with winning in his veins.

Does this manager exist? You bet. @Arsenal, you need:

Ryan Giggs.

“You’re getting sacked in the morning …”

Is Mark Hughes a good skater? You might have equated the former Manchester United striker with more of a ballerina outside of football, or some may even say a diver, but certainly the Stoke City manager appears on thin ice and his future at Stoke after four and a half years is at risk. If it wasn’t clear by now.

A run of seven defeats in ten games means that the gaffer’s position is under threat. Hughes rested a number of key players in the 5-0 drubbing at Chelsea, which to be fair, was a good decision. His team were highly unlikely to win at Chelsea, so why tire key players in a festive schedule that is so congested that it has even seen Pep Guardiola complain that it will kill? The latter has seen Gabriele Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne injured after a physical game at Crystal Palace – a turn of events which may seem now make Aguero the key striker and pave the way for Alexis Sanchez to Manchester City. But back to Hughes …

Hughes’ reasoning was that he had a must win game with Newcastle after Chelsea. So the drubbing was tolerated ahead of three expected points which would give them a bit of a lift. Unfortunately, Hughes lost that game 1-0 too. THe problem is fans can tolerate losing against big teams, but when you lose against fellow strugglers who are also in the relegation zone then it makes the situation more bleak and you would need to be the most diehard of fans to keep backing the manager. Or the most clueless. As Hughes said, “If I don’t do it, who will?”

The problem too, is there ARE a couple of managers out there who would do it. Managers who have caught a bad break, on hiatus, been sacked – even Swansea’s Paul Clement might be in with a chance after he was dumped by the club. The players’ response was to win one for the new managers, a trend I previously highlighed. Stoke’s best strategy might be to replaces Hughes and hopefully set of a chain of good results to lift them out of relegation.

Whose in the relegation zone? Who is in danger of being relegated? The answer to the latter question is the last eight teams. If you look at the table at the moment, the bottom eight teams, from Newcastle down to Swansea, are all separated by only six points. As Newcastle found out, win one game and you are out of the bottom three, currently occupied by Stoke, West Brom and Swansea. Only nine points separate the tenth placed team – Watford on 25 – from Swansea at 16. The real battle this year, thanks to Manchester City’s dominance, will be at the bottom half of the table, with teams leap frogging each other each week. It’s like a game of musical chairs, or better yet, spin the bottle.

This round, it’s pointing at Mark Hughes. It might not be in two weeks.

He might be gone by then.