The British; we do love a good pantomime. The fight between good and evil, the comedic madness and audience participation, coming together in an hour or two’s entertainment for the family. The same could be said of the Premier League although talk of the ‘football family’ brings more sinister deeds to the forefront of my mind, in a less wholesome way than the staple of British theatre.
That isn’t stopping the media this morning, determined as The Heil is, to wring every last drop of blood from the simmering feud between Arsène and Jose Mourinho. The pair, they tell us, can’t bear to be in the same room but have a strong sense of decorum so will be civil with each other at the pre-season soirée at Premier League HQ.
The well is truly dry if this is the depths to which the media have to stoop to get a story. Yes, I want to know if Jose has passed notes around class – “I am the Special One! You are the Special Needs One!” – because bullying isn’t nice; children can be so cruel. But if they stand on the opposite sides of the room and ignore each other beyond Arsène performing the Heimlich manoeuvre when Jose chokes on his prawn vol-au-vent, I don’t care.
And nor should anyone. This false bonhomie we expect managers to have, evoking the spirit of Kipling, is a media invention. Is it realistic to expect two direct rivals to be friendly immediately after the final whistle as blown, particularly a pair whose distaste for each other is not even barely disguised?
The theatrics of Sunday were exactly that, stage-managed; a distraction technique from the failings of his own players. Relieving the inevitable pressure, to focus attention on himself and take the ‘pain’ of defeat although to be fair, the sheer disgust at losing writ large in the faces of Mourinho and Terry made winning a pre-season friendly feel all the more enjoyable.
Arsène has other things on his mind. A small injury is annoying for him to deal with although it relieves his selection pressures a little. When that injury is to Jack Wilshere and more particularly, his ankle, concern rises. It isn’t a long journey from a small knock to a season out and it is one Wilshere knows well enough. This morning sees the talk already at three weeks before the midfielder returns to the first team. It might be longer if results and performances are going well.
The story isn’t about Arsenal though, it’s about England. Even though the initial prognosis was for a couple of days absence – and nothing since has contradicted that beyond the speculation it will be longer – Roy Hodgson seems set to be deprived of the services of his pivotal midfielder when the Premier League breaks for the September internationals.
September internationals. Let that sink in for a moment.
Three weeks into the season and there is an international break. THREE WEEKS! Four games to get back into the swing of things and BAM! A fortnight off. Or for the players, ten days with their national squads but for us, it’s a fortnight off from proper football. Two weeks of England’s titanic struggle with San Marino and top of the table clash with Switzerland. God help us all and relieve the tedium.
I. Can’t. Wait.
It could be worse, I suppose. Arsenal might have had to play two Champions League qualifiers in that time.
The news elsewhere is more encouraging. Danny Welbeck returned to training yesterday, timed to keep Alexis Sanchez company as the pair begin their pre-season regimes although to be fair, the Chilean made sure everyone knew that he had been working out on the beach during his holibobs. The series of posts on Instagram all came stamped with “ILY RK“. Footballers and their cryptic social media footballers, eh?
Surprisingly, Alexis didn’t post one of him in a jet, depriving the media of a series of speculative stories about where he was headed. The past stayed in the past for Alexis whilst the future is staying in Madrid according to Rafa Benitez. Not his own obviously, he is too long in the tooth to have taken the job at the Bernabeu with even half a lazy eye on the retirement benefits part of his package; he spoke of Karim Benzema with a rousing “I think so” followed by a shrug of the shoulders and quizzical look at yesterday’s presser.
Which will be music to Olivier Giroud’s ears. He has enough on his plate fighting Theo Walcott for the lead striker role in the XI but quietly confident in himself,
I was a bit disappointed not to start. But the main thing is the team winning. I am happy where I am — competing with Theo for the place up front.
Whilst we like to think of it as a straightforward battle, it won’t be. Having two strikers to choose from allows flexibility depending on the opposition and venue. Walcott’s pace is a threat against a high defensive line and away from home. Other opponents will suit Giroud better. It’s about options and for the first time in many years, Arsène has them. Whether there are better options is a different arguments but at the moment, it is what it is and seems unlikely to change.