The weekend is upon us, with West Bromwich Albion hosting The Arsenal. Pulis lays in wait, with his rambunctious team, in a fixture which will be anything but plain sailing. Or given the circumstances, plane sailing?
You’d struggle to notice much about Le Boss’s press conference yesterday. There was little coming out of it. He sat in a moral kiosk on things, such as Craig Shakespeare – “You don’t judge managers on three games” – and you don’t judge them on 1,000 either, in his book. Much longer timescales than that.
On Leicester being the last English club left, he didn’t answer the question because, “I don’t believe people are really interested in it.” He’s right, because the conversation inevitably leads back to his habitual failure in Europe – he’s the only manager to have lost all three club competition finals and never win one – and of course, Bayern. And the media gave him a free pass. The club has journalists running scared at the moment, that’s for sure. No contentious questions permitted.
You sense press conferences have become tiresome for him but there’s a disconnect in his head about why. It’s only because six months down the line, he still hasn’t come to a decision on his future. Out of the title race, out of Europe; both ticked off the list, so the situation is no different from previous years. There’s no reason not to decide any more and let’s make no bones about this: there’s never going to be a good time to announce he is staying. Ivan and the board will get grief, no matter the time and place of telling people.
I’d argue leaving it to the end of the season is worse because it will intensify criticism of the club when new signings are slow to be announced. The usual stonewalled answer of “We don’t talk about transfers” is going to fan the flames, even if it comes on the back of an FA Cup win. Neither club nor manager cares particularly about supporter reactions but going into a new season, devoid of optimism? It’s a recipe for disaster.
We shall see.
Gareth Southgate delivered a timely wake-up call to the whole of the Arsenal squad. Theo Walcott was delighted to receive an envelope with the Three Lions crest on the outside. Probably joked with Mel and the kids that it had lithographed signatures from all the players, with the FA being a bunch of cheapskates.
When he opened it and saw a self-penned poem from the England boss, he was expecting some management-speak to motivate him. Instead, Gareth proved the lie of the chummy pizza ads and Mr Dull image he’s cultivated:
There once was a winger called Walcott
Whose career at his club went to pot
He couldn’t get in the side
Playing up front or out wide
So others are in my squad and you’re not
Hope you have a great a great birthday,
Snozz (or Mr Southgate if you want the chance of recall)
It’s no surprise Theo has been dropped. With nearly half-a-century of caps, he still hasn’t nailed down a place in any England side. A goal every seven games is far from a good return, especially for a forward while Southgate is just the latest boss to be unconvinced by Walcott. Even Arsène was last season and to some extent, this one as well.
Wenger defended his charge with the usual banalities about being a “complete player” but we know it isn’t true. He is in good form but that doesn’t hide the transient nature of it.
Talk About The Passion
“He does better in the tactical part of his game and works hard defensively and offensively. [Theo] has been less injured as well, that helps.
“[Walcott] has turned up in big games as well, he can score goals in big games. He showed that against Bayern, he scored the goal and I think it was a penalty on him and he can influence games.”
If I have a major criticism of Theo, it’s the lack of leadership. He’s a senior pro but there are no signs of him taking the squad by the scruff of the neck and dragging a better performance out of them. I don’t expect him to wear his heart on his sleeve in the way Alexis does, but his refusal to take on responsibility for the whole team is symptomatic of late-era Wenger’s Arsenal.
While that seems contradictory to Arsène’s claim about influencing games, it isn’t. Wenger, in my view, doesn’t demand enough from Theo. This year is the first time since 2012/13 he has reached double figures in goals. You can point to a major injury a couple of years back and I agree although in 21 appearances, anyone with aspirations to play centrally must be hitting 10+ goals. Last season, Theo made 42 appearances and scored 9; in Arsenal’s formation, that’s not good enough, there has to be more from him.
And I think that’s going to be the recurring theme in retrospectives about his career; there was always more to come but it never arrived. Theo’s a decent player, don’t get me wrong, but definitely one who has never lived up to the early hype.
Maybe that hype was wrong, overstating the case. Maybe Germany was his false dawn and we chose to ignore it. At 28, he doesn’t have much time to change that.
Arsène’s future still haunts the club. This morning sees The Sun claim he’s staying because he is taking an interest in the redevelopment of Hale End. I think he’s keeping his career options open and has submitted his application for the job of Academy manager under an assumed name. Will Ivan notice the familiarity of Arnold Wagner’s achievements?
Academy boss would suit Wenger down to the ground. Coaching without pressure. He doesn’t have to win trophies and he’s made no secret of his disdain for transfers; Arsène could train the youngsters to play football properly, and then as they get older, his successors at the first team can train them to win.
Arsène stays as a coach and remains at Arsenal; we get an updated manager. It’s ‘win-win’ baby, you know it.