Sentencing postponed

Has Arsene Wenger earned a brief reprieve? Two good results, one away at Milan and another home win over Watford yesterday, have earned him some breathing space away from the ire of the Wenger Out brigade. Perhaps the Gunners boss will use the lack of animosity as a sign to the board not to sack him whenever the fans chant for him to leave. After all, when his back was against the wall, he managed to get the team to pull out two wins in a row. In a season where the team’s form has looked like yoyo-ing between wins and losses alternately, two wins in a row looks like a winning streak.

Arsenal’s win against Watford was notable for reasons other than making two wins in a row for Wenger. Firstly, Petr Cech finally reached the milestone of 200 clean sheets in the Premier League. The last one had taken a long time to come, amidst a run of bad form by the team, and it was good for him to get the monkey off his back. The problem with goalkeeping records is that they are really dependent on the team defence as a whole, and playing for Arsenal means you are slightly disadvantaged in that respect.

Back in the reverse fixture at Watford, Hornets captain had made the remark about Arsenal lacking cojones. So it was slightly ironic that Deeney made a penalty miss in the game, and you could tell once that happened, Watford was going to lose the game. When your captain says the other team lacks balls, then doesn’t live up to his words, the psychological battle is lost. Lesson to learn? Hold your tongue.

Mesut Ozil made 50 Premier League assists. Confirming his reputation as an assist king, with that ability to unlock defences, Ozil provided the assist that allowed Mkhitaryan to score. How should Arsenal get the best out of Ozil? Creative players don’t like to do the dirty work like defending. When Ozil has to track back too much and play defense, it taps into his offensive capability. Perhaps this is how other teams have played Arsenal in the past to good effect, by sending midfielder up to pin Ozil back. If you watch the Manchester City triumphs against Arsenal, you would have seen how far up the midfield went, and then how they passed the ball around to sap the creativity from Arsenal’s attacking flair.

Is Wenger out of the sack race? Don’t count on it yet. The Gunners followed up a 3-0 win at Ostersunds with a loss to the minnows. Anything can happen. Don’t get too optimistic about Milan. They are still capable of an upset at the Emirates, and even if Arsenal triumph, the road back to the Champions League goes through Atletico Madrid.

Is Alexandre Lacazette the world’s most expensive bookmark?

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.

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.

Pacemakers play peacemakers

Ah Alexis Sanchez. How many times have we said all those words in the same breath? He continues to impress yet frustrate, the will-he won’t-he saga threatening to overshadow much of Arsenal’s season. It is best they deal with it as fast as possible, and in this it might be better if he were released in January, rather than the Gooners holding on to a toxic asset.

The Arsenal striker’s skill has been clear for all to see in recent weeks. Against Liverpool, he led a fightback by scoring a goal from a header he should have had no business in winning. Hector Bellerin whipped in a cross, and Sanchez sprinted ahead of Joel Matip to nod the ball through Mignolet’s legs. The goalkeeper, who has been blamed for Liverpool’s struggles and may be slightly relieved to see Virgil van Dyke in front of him now – although it may mean he carries more blame if goals get conceded – absolutely had no chance with Sanchez’s goal. Yet while he may have been at fault with Granit Xhaka hitting his belter from far, there is no denying that Sanchez did inspire a comeback of sorts.

Sanchez also inspired a win over Crystal Palace, a 3-2 grab at three points. He scored two of the goals, but as many have noted, a few of his team mates refused to celebrate with him. The refuseniks – mainly the Arsenal defence – were Saed Kolasinac, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Kosicleny and Calum Chambers which may lead us to believe the training ground bust up after the game at Burnley’s Turf Moor last month may have been about Sanchez voicing his displeasure about a leaky defence. If that were the case, then it is not good news, considering that a division between attacking players and defensive players is not one you wish to have.

So the real question is why Arsene Wenger continues to hold on to Sanchez. See what happened at Southampton with Virgil van Dyke? The protracted discussion about his future with the club caused them to play under a cloud and go on a slide. Now that he is gone, watch for Southampton to play better with a better sense of team spirit.

Arsenal have managed to do well with Sanchez in the squad but Wenger is playing a dangerous game. Arguably his best player, Sanchez is increasingly becoming an influential but divisive figure. Arsenal have had a good run of results on the back of their out-of-contract players, Ozil and Sanchez, but Wenger needs to weigh up the results with the team spirit. Favour Sanchez, and he risks losing the faith of the eleven other players. And by the time Wenger lets Sanchez goes, he may find he may need to earn back the respect of the other players. If anything, having Sanchez around for the moment deflects from the Wenger Out cries, and turns attention away from the team’s results and performance.

Another fortunate event has been the form of leaders Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men have so dominated the league that it is a case of will they win it or will they lose it. It is them against the chasing pack of teams traditionally in the top six. But this means Arsenal no longer have the expectation of winning the league, and are not expected to by their fans, and are not being blamed by them for every poor perfomance because they are still in the same boat as high spending Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Arsenal fans this year will be content with a top four finish, a return to Champions League football, and the Kings of North London football crown; their fans will be happy as long as they beat Tottenham after 38 games.

It should make for an interesting transfer window when it opens on Jan 1 2018. And one player pleased to see the new year will be Adrien Silva, the signing that Leicester tried to make previously but ended up a mere fourteen seconds late. Fourteen seconds! It was a high price to pay, those fourteen seconds. It meant he remained a Sporting Lisbon player even though he had also disengaged from the team, but could not train with Leicester. In a bit of limbo. A bit like Alexis Sanchez.

And so, with the transfer window opening again, it should make for an interesting start to 2018. And you can be sure all eyes are on the Alexis Sanchez situation. Will City sign him now and risk losing their chemistry? Will they wait for the end of the summer when his value drops? It may make better sense but waiting may mean other teams may start to consider him, as his affordability would drop to theirs. It is likely that Manchester City or some other team will sign him first to snap him out of the others’ grasp.

But for now, while Sanchez lingers at Arsenal, and the rift between him and the defence continues, the midfielders, the engine room of the team – the pacemakers – have to play the peacemakers.

Saturday Round-up

Can anyone stop Manchester City? This is the question that everyone seems to be asking after the City train steamrolled Tottenham Hotspurs, pretenders to the throne, and all but showed them that if they ever want to be possible Premier League Champions, they still have a long way to go.

Remember when it was not long ago that everyone was gushing over Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen? No one seems to be speaking about them now.

Dele Alli seemed to have cottoned on to something though, something that Manchester City’s past opponents didn’t seem to have registered. If you want to stop Manchester City, you have to stop Kevin de Bruyne. Stop Kevin de Bruyne. Don’t double team him, don’t man-mark him, don’t zone him. Just stop him.

It’s fairly predictable that the three-man panel will give Dele Alli a retrospective ban for the first class stamp on de Bruyne.

Does Manchester City’s fine run mean that Alexis Sanchez’s stock has gone down? Four months ago he was touted to be off to join Pep – maybe as the backup to Sergio Kun Aguero? – but now City have gone on their brilliant run without him. If he does go over in the transfer period, wouldn’t it be said that he merely transferred over to the Premier League champions without doing anything to help them earn it?

In fact, this is what Arsene Wenger should be selling Sanchez. Wenger should tell him, “You want to be recognised for your contribution, sign a new contract with us. Over here the fans recognise you are one of the pulling powers of the team. Over there you are one of many stars. If Tottenham is a Harry Kane team, Man City are a Kevin de Bruyne team. But Arsenal is the Alexis Sanchez team.”

But wait a second, I hear you say. What about Alexandre Lacazette?

Presumable Wenger persuaded him to sign for the Gunners by telling him he could make them the “Lacazette team”. But having spent a fortune signing him and then not playing him in the big games, he is really the £52.6m bookmark. Pretty much like Fernando Torres in the Chelsea days.

“This is my team now. Take a hike.”

“I might hitch a ride on the Wenger Out plane to Man City.”


Was Mesut Ozil’s strike against Newcastle one of his last few for Arsenal? Wenger insists Ozil and Sanchez will not be sold to rivals, especially top four ones who could do Arsenal out of a Champions League place.

It’s all shaping out to be an interesting transfer window.

“I’m going to off-load that whinging Sanchez. What the heck, Man City are going to win the league anyway. But if you stay, Arsenal could be known as the Mesut Ozil team.”

And did you see that goal by Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure? That is going to win the next Goal of the Month competition.

“I predict that Arsenal are going to be known as the Olivier Giroud team …”

Reality Check

The problem with dreams …



is that they are nice while they last …



… and twenty four hours it’s almost like nothing ever happened.

In the top four, out of the top four.

You do the hokey-hokey, and you turn around …

At least Sean Dyche and his men are above Arsenal in the table.

Arsene Wenger desperately needs a centre-back in the January transfer window or else helicopter bookings might be up again.

But while Sean Dyche’s Burnley enjoyed a brief wet dream with the top four spot, and it might be a bit of a come-down from the climax, at least it’s better that Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace.

Out of the drop zone, then back in it again.

Oh well, at least they breathed clean air for a day.


Reasons behind player motivation

In the previous post, I mentioned how managerial uncertainty affects players. I also mentioned how players are unwilling to give their best if things appear as if any manager is on his way out. Why is this so? Firstly, if you are seen to be too loyal to the old gaffer, when he is shipped out you could be too. So it makes sense, as a player, to distance yourself slightly from the manager, and this may manifest itself in the form of not listening fully to instructions, either on the field, or during team tactical talks. Of course, it is better to have any doubt about the manager eradicated, if the board make a public statement. Then the players know the manager’s way is the only way.

And what happened when news of Everton’s appointment of Sam Allardyce filtered through at Everton? They win 4-0. Against all odds they score four goals, and don’t even concede one!

The appointment of a new manager always brings a run of positive results. Why? Because it is likely that the new manager might be there for a while, so players subconsciously see it as an opportunity to impress the man, and align himself with him. In the first few matches you often see players digging deep, finding reserves they didn’t display for the previous boss. Failure to impress the new incoming boss could mean a quick exit from the first team or club.

Player motivation is also affected by externalities, even though you have to be professional and give your all on the field, and managerial in-outs are not the only factors. Sometimes you can find players performance spike in in late November or December. Arsenal’s duo of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, linked with other clubs since the summer, have recently experienced a resurgence in form. Yet not long ago they were seemingly transferring out, Sanchez to Manchester City and Ozil to Manchester United. And when news of their possible moves affected their form, the fans turned on them. Yet they are playing their best now. What has happened? Have they now decided Arsenal is their future home?

Actually, no. They are playing to impress. Just not their existing boss, or any incoming one. Arsene Wenger is not going anywhere yet. But Sanchez and Ozil are playing to attract interest from elsewhere, to earn themselves a trade in time for the January window.

But Sean Dyche at Burnley seems to have the best of most worlds. The owner likes him, he and his team evaluate themselves on performances and not results, knowing they are not going to win every game. And his players have heart, and fight for him. But maybe they are just fighting for interest from the big clubs.

Player motivation. It’s a funny thing.