West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies; The Throstles; The Hawthorns. An appropriate ground; the hawthorn is prickly and that suits my mood this morning.
There’s no simpler way to describe this fixture: must-win. City and Liverpool meet tomorrow so there’s the opportunity to close the gap on the bin-dippers, who have played two games more. But the pressure works both ways. We kick-off at 12.30, and don’t have the best of records when it comes to lunchtime matches.
Most of our performances are pretty forgettable at the moment, if we’re honest. Or maybe I’m just trying to forget them. Contrary to the revisionism of the manager and players, there was no boost last weekend. Gianluigi Buffon summed it up. He didn’t want to face Leicester in the Champions League because it was a ‘no-win’ match. Lincoln was the same; we were expected to win handsomely – and 5 – 0 ticks that box – but anything more or less was a hollow victory.
This afternoon is not the same; it’s a tougher test, one which Albion will relish, particularly after last season’s 2 – 1 win. Not only that, in eighth place, they are already safe from relegation. Not uncharted territory by any means, but enough to allow them to play football rather than scrap for points.
That would mean a volte face from Pulis, and this is a manager who, like Mourinho, would like nothing more than to add to Wenger and Arsenal’s woes. You can the man out of the rugby club but…
I expect both Tottenham and United to win their Sunday matches, so we can’t afford to drop points. We need to win for a myriad of reasons, not least because we’ve spectacularly cocked up our last fixtures against meaningful opposition. As much as I think Arsène’s shot his bolt, Arsenal losing is still a miserable experience.
The Baggies are a curious club in football terms. One where the vibrancy of their football in the late 70s, with Cunningham, Regis and Barnes but they are a strange breed; I can’t get their monotone, Brummie-tinged, “We hate Villa” chant out of my head and it is utterly grating. Rather like Pulis in a post-match interview.
What line-up will Arsène field? Who knows; the usual one I expect. Some believe Giroud will start but I’d rather Welbeck on the left and Alexis in the middle. I pray Ox is fit but am resigned to Xhaka and Ramsey. Both individually good players in my view, but there is no whiff of a partnership there. A bit like Cannon & Ball, I suppose.
I’m thinking it will be:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Ramsey; Walcott, Özil, Welbeck;Sanchez
They do what they do; pass and move but whether it’s enough, remains to be seen.
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Boro Primorac, manager of the Valenciennes side at the centre of the scandal which engulfed Marseilles way back. When Primorac was ostracised in France, Wenger in a commendable act of loyalty, didn’t forget the man who helped expose the scandal.
Speaking to a Croatian paper, Boro came up with lines which will haunt his friend until the end of his days. The defence of Arsène? I have no issue with that, and I don’t care that Primorac thinks fans and ex-players are ungrateful. I get the sentiment; it’s wrong in 90% of the cases but nonetheless, who can forgive him for fighting back when he sees a friend being battered from all sides.
But I do have an issue with a phrase of Primorac’s; it sums up everything which is wrong with Arsenal Football Club and why Arsène Wenger must not be allowed to renew his contract: The attitude of the coaching staff is driven by the Frenchman and Kroenke, with Boro truly underlining the malaise:
“Arsenal’s strength in the past 20 years has been Wenger. It is not all about results, but also the business part of the club that matters”
“it’s not all about results”. My dear, Boro, it most certainly is. And honestly, “the business part of the club” is secondary to the results. If you don’t get results, the business eventually suffers. There’s a lag, no doubt about it and you could go on for several years, seeing a gradual erosion but the damage will be done.
As charm offensives go, it needs a bit of work but no doubt reflects how the hierarchy at the club think. The desire to win is overwhelmed by the bottom line, by the business, forgetting that the business of Arsenal is football. Under Wenger, Gazidis and Kroenke, Arsenal will never win – or come close to winning – the Premier League title again. None of them care enough about football.
This afternoon’s match bounces the transfer gossip off the back pages. We’re currently in a bidding war with Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid over the Monaco stars, Mbappe, Mendy and Bakayoko. We’re after their team-mate Bakatheq.
It sums Arsenal up in my mind; the thrust of mediocrity is hidden behind a veil of indifference
In idle moments such as these, I wonder sometimes what musician or film star football clubs are. I always get stuck on Arsenal, changing my mind from minute to minute but I never have that problem when it comes to politicians: we’re George Osborne.
Nobody likes us and we give little thought to tightening the belt when it isn’t necessary, all the while claiming that austerity will lead us into a bright new future. Except that bright new future never comes except in the business sense; then we make money, no matter what.
Liverpool are David Cameron. No matter what crap flies around, none of it sticks to them while Chelsea are Tony Blair. You know they’re a ‘wrong ‘un’, you see them do it but nobody calls them out until it’s too late. City are Nick Clegg. Occasionally threatening to win things, and when they do, disappearing back into obscurity as quickly as they arrived.
Leicester are Nigel Farage. Sticking up for Britain all over the continent but utterly irrelevant at home while Konyaspor are Tim Fallon. You hear about them for a couple of days, before finally asking, “Who?”.
But what of United and Tottenham, I hear you ask? United are flash, gauche, the latest toy which costs a lot to maintain but ultimately proves to have no substance. In other words, Nicola Sturgeon while Tottenham are Jeremy Corbyn. Full of fine ideals and great theories but when it’s time to deliver, nothing’s there.
Finally today, Times of our Lives has reached 1996. The playlist is here.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.