Managers out of control

Is Arsene Wenger off his rocket again? The Frenchman has recently made the headlines again for his claim that “English players are the best at diving”. We can be absolutely certain that he is not referring to Tom Daley. Hot off the game of Liverpool and Tottenham, where Harry Kane, using his clout as one of England’s top players, went over in injury time, expecting that referees were not going to flag him up for diving and won his team a penalty which was later saved, Wenger offered his comments about how the art of diving is being refined by English players.

First of all, that is an unequivocally silly statement to make. Wenger himself has English players within his Arsenal team, so it would be an awkwardly embarassing insinuation that the ones in his team are learning how to go over, how to initiate contact and how to fall properly. Has the Premier League become so competitive that teams are sending players to ju-jitsu lessons to learn how to land on the floor without injuring themselves, then looking for contact in the game?

This is not the first time Arsene has opened his mouth and said something he shouldn’t have. Referring to his team’s defeat by Manchester City in November, he accused Raheem Sterling of diving then. Wenger seems “locked in” in his ideas that the manager should take the heat off his team, and seems to be saying something controversial to avoid any discussion of his team’s form in the league, or to take away the media attention on his defence – or lack of defence, not that the courting of Jonny Evans has failed. But the problem is that each time Wenger thinks he is deflecting attention away from his players, he really – by attracting media attention – is drawing attention to it. Yesterday, the media would have been happy focussing on Antonio Conte’s poor form at Chelsea, and how Chelsea managers don’t last very long in the owner versus manager battle. That story still had long to run. The only thing is now Mr Wenger has accused English players of diving, after the Tottenham game, ahead of the North London derby where Harry Kane will be in attendance.

Is it a clever move to say things that will ignite your opponents? Wenger probably hopes that his comments may influence the game such that if a Tottenham player like Kane goes down again, the referee will be less inclined to blow his whistle. But he is out of touch to think that. If anything, the subtle attempt to influence the officiating is such a distasteful act that any referee would probably blow the whistle just to annoy Wenger.

And if one of his English players go do down under a Tottenham challenge, don’t expect Wenger to eat his words.

The point is – if you haven’t got anything to say, don’t say it!

Arsenal players probably play best when the focus of expectation is not on them. But Wenger’s recent talk is probably going to just put them under the media glare again. So despite the new improved attack, don’t expect them to emerge winners at White Hart Lane this Saturday.

And Antonio Conte? The longer his war of words with the team continues, the less it does for him.

As a supporter voiced on BBC Radio 5 Live, the fans just want to see the old Conte from last year back again, they don’t want to see him whinging about things, especially considering how much he is being paid. They just wish he would get on with the job.

And Wenger? Arsenal fans probably wish he would step away from it now.

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.

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.

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.