Chelsea in Crisis

With reference to the last post, could Olivier Giroud have made a winning debut at Chelsea.

Not a chance.

Giroud joins former team mate Theo Walcott (now Everton) in the “thumped on their new debuts” list.

Is the clock ticking for Antonio Conte? You might think at Chelsea they don’t use clocks, they use hourglasses.

All about Liverpool – well, not all …

Umm, wasn’t Virgil van Dijk brought in with the intention of shoring up the Liverpool backline? The criticism of Liverpool all season is that while they had a good strike force of Coutinho, Mane, Salah and Firminho, and while the fab four are now the terrific three, and still scoring goals, everyone is still talking about the leaky backline.

Liverpool’s only win in their last four matches have come against Huddersfield Town. They lost 1-0 to Swansea (Swansea!), 2-3 to West Bromwich Albion and then now managed a 2-2 draw with Tottenham. On the basis of all those performances, you would be slightly pressed to see the impact of Van Dijk. That’s two losses, a draw and a win in four games – not exactly what you might call plugging the hole.

Jurgen Klopp might have some grievance with the way Tottenham earned the draw though. Having charged down the sideline after an injury-time penalty made it 2-1 in LIverpool’s favour, in the same style as Jose Mourinho ran the Old Trafford line with Porto, the fist pumping and head banging all came to a quick end when a Tottenham player ran over van Dijk’s outstretched leg. It’s like a heavy metal concert coming to an end after a power cut. Harry Kane, having been denied by Lloris Karius, this time managed to squeeze one away for a draw.

There’s no denying Liverpool are associated with a leaky defence. They are like the Arsenal of the north. Old boy Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must be wondering what he has gotten into. Having secured a move away from Highbury with the intention of playing more in central midfield and in a team that can make it into the top four, he is still on a team with a dodgy defence. A big expenditure on a big player who has yet to make an impact on the team.

Is Virgil van Dijk twinned with Alexandre Lacazette? The latter must be the world’s most expensive bookmark, not played much in the season (such as being left out against Liverpool) and now behind Aubameyang and Mkitharyan.

The penalty against Livepool was awarded after the referee Jon Moss and assistant referee had a long chat to determine if a penalty should have been awarded or not.

Aubameyang should have had his debut goal against Everton cancelled out for offside. His goal made it 4-0 for the Gunners before halftime. But why was there no video replay? Again, this brings into question the necessity of VAR and how it should be used. Rather than make it the referee’s prerogative, give managers a challenge in each half and let them use it when they want to. They can only have one in each half, or two over the game, so there is more impetus to save it for more important challenges at the end of the game – and it keeps the game moving.

Can Arsenal maintain their momentum? So far their January signings have done good, just like Batshuayi’s debut for Dortmund. Everton’s former Arsenal signing, Theo Walcott? On the end of a 5-1 drubbing. Can Olivier Giroud match a good transfer for Chelsea too?

Strike Farce

The Premier League transfer window has closed and some crazy deals were done, and some crazy deals were not done. But thankfully, no one should be talking about Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil leaving Arsenal ever – it is time for the press to find a new angle!

Speaking of Arsenal, who was the biggest winner in the Arsenal – Chelsea – Dortmund strike triangle? Aubameyang’s release from Dortmund could only take place if they got Batshuayi, and Michy Batshuayi went to Dortmund on condition that Chelsea could sign Giroud. How complicated! It’s like being in a chain! Did the teams – specifically Arsenal not learn already from their transfer story in the summer, when A.S. was supposed to go to Manchester City on condition that Arsenal secured the services of Thomas Lemar? It is complicated when the deal involves two, but when it involves three … well, let’s just say luckily for Arsenal they managed to pull it off. If Giroud had missed going to Chelsea, you would have yet another striker going on strike. Like Riyadh Mahrez at Leicester.

Giroud’s aim to get regular football was with a view to getting selected for the World Cup. He had not been playing regularly for Arsenal and was worried he might be overlooked for selection. At 31, this would probably be his last World Cup, unless he does a Miroslav Klose and manages to keep up his intensity for another four years. His reluctance to leave London was because he had recently become a father for the third time, and the support network of friends and family are really based in London, where he has been since joining Arsenal in 2012. Arsenal’s deal with Chelsea with Giroud will be for an eighteen month loan, which suits Giroud because he gets to play first team football for World Cup selection, Arsenal get their new front three some regular time to play together, and then Giroud comes back to join them – possibly – or secures a permanent deal.

Chelsea have got an experienced Premier League striker to back up Morata. Win win for both.

And Batshuayi? I can’t say I know what Dortmund would make of him in the long term, but then again he has not really played much apart from the lead in to the transfer window when Conte gave him chance to peddle his skills as advertisement. He may have scored two in his debut against Koln, but remember that this is the initial rush of showing a new team what you can do – the difference is how he can keep it up in the long term, which of you’ve not played regularly for months, means you are going to struggle.

Don’t forget that the Bat man scored two in a game against the Bundesliga’s bottom club. Of course he would do well. It would be like Henrikh Mkitharyan debuting against Swansea.

Hang on. He did.

Where will Arsene Wenger play his new three? Make no mistake, he is probably reserving them for use in the Europa League. He has realised he is not going to get back in the top four, and is doing a Mourinho to get Champions League football by the back passage. And with three superstars ahead of him to take the flak for poor performances, at least Mesut Ozil can play creatively without worrying. And watch for Wenger to blood his new buys into the team with games against Ludogrets and Sevilla. And Alex Iwobi and Chuba Akpom to lead the line in Premier League games.

What a thought!

Still can’t quite play in tune

New look Manchester United complete with piano-playing new forward Alexis Sanchez visited Tottenham last night, but the Chilean, the first to play for the big club Manchester United, could not quite inspire his team mates to the same result as they did over Yeovil United. He may have made his debut to a winning one, but as Sanchez discovered, playing against a Premier League side is still as tough as it gets.

Manchester United were down to a goal within eleven seconds, just one of the ten-second goal held jointly by Ledley King and Alan Shearer. After that Tottenham defended well and continued to dominate the match, with bad luck also affecting United, their substitute Marouane Fellaini having injured himself within seven minutes of coming on.

What is the shortest stay a substitute has had on the pitch before leaving? One of the shortest that comes to mind must be Steven Gerrard’s, he who was sent off within minutes of the restart after coming on as a second half substitute.

Sanchez played the whole game yesterday but must have been tormented by the White Hart Lane fans who continued to remind him he may have switched shirts but is still unable to beat them.

His fellow striker Olivier Giroud has joined Chelsea, so that makes it two strikers who have left Arsenal and leapt straight into Champions League teams. In their place Arsenal now have Mkitharyan and Aubameyang, two individuals who bring threat of pace, but difficulties for singing fans in having to think of new songs.

Lacazette, Mkitharyan, Aubameyang. Maybe Arsene Wenger is clearing out the whole front line, combining with Ozil who recently signed a new contract until 2021, and then his defence consists of the back three and Kolasinac and Bellerin. The combination would be good to watch were it not for the fact that Arsenal team still leaks in goals.

Next year is probably Arsene Wenger’s last year, if not this one. If he doesn’t succeed next year, then he has really no excuses left.

New calls for Wenger Out

To be fair, it was the Arsenal defence, not just Cech.

But it highlights the posture taken by the team. Don’t score, then hope not to concede. Aim not to concede, then try to score.

Get defensive cover. Forget Aubameyang, who will only become another Sanchez. Plug the hole where it matters.

Maybe a change in thinking is required, which is where a new head may be better.

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.