It’s a sign o’ the times and has been for a number of seasons. Not just when Ferguson retired and Arsenal spiralled, but before then. When Arsenal ceased to be a title challenger, that’s when this fixture begand to fade from relevance to that race. It’s still a big game for us; it always has been and it always will but if you ask me, I feel a bit ‘meh’ about this afternoon’s fixture.
United have named a weakened squad; they still won’t lose. We’re hopelessly out of sorts and the manager is out of ideas on how to reinvigorate his side. Instead we listen to words about the players being wounded animals. He who was once a breath of fresh air at the club is sucking out the oxygen; how has it come to this? Even Mourinho is being nice to him, and in the process making Arsène look the sourpuss which takes some doing. Let’s be honest, the media which hounded Wenger for years is now his biggest fan, having tired of Mourinho’s boorish behaviour.
Arsenal recognise the fading allure of this Premier League season. Already the attack dogs are unleashed. Incomprehensible transfer gossip surfaces in the back pages: £85m for Mbappe “and they’ll promise to play him centrally every week“. This is the club which has the longest list of ‘nearly-signed players’ in the history of football. We’re being set up for a summer of “we tried”, in complete contrast to last week’s ‘you failed’ headlines of how Alexandre Lacazette wants Champions League football and isn’t coming to Arsenal because of that. Unless it one of Spain’s big three who go for him, I’m guessing Arsenal’s money will more than compensate him for a season or two in the Europa League.
I Like Nightmares
In a perverse way, this season’s failure is welcome at Arsenal. The complacency within the club itself about finishing in the top four must surely have been shaken out of the upper echelons of management, including Wenger himself. If the ‘root and branch’ changes we’re led to believe are happening, it must include a more dynamic approach to the transfer market, including no longer letting the manager have the final say on price. He and Dick Law are too conservative by far, to be effective for a club with pretensions of becoming a European giant.
Whether or not Wenger is here is another matter. While the timing suits a new broom, I don’t believe he wants to leave. The only reason he will is if he does not want to work with the changes in the hierarchy; no other reason. Nor do I believe it will be just a two-year renewal. There’s little sense in that, with the changes needed at squad level. There are a number of players over 30 and all of them key. Wenger walking away with the squad decimated by the loss of key players? It’s not going to happen. This summer’s renewal is the precursor, in my view, to four more years. The new two years to overhaul the squad, the second two for a final tilt at glory.
The Kids Are Alright
Just remember you read that headline here first. It’s going to be used if/when United don’t lose this afternoon. Much is being made of the youthful additions to United’s squad for today’s game. Mourinho isn’t going to throw this match. No matter the circumstances, his record of not losing a competitive match to Wenger – no-one seems to regard the Community Shield as competitive any more – is not something he will give up lightly.
United this season are almost an object lesson for Arsenal next season. Get to the Champions League via the Europa League while shying at the top four. With the title a pipe dream, we have to follow the same template. A little bit more flair, if you don’t mind; the numbing football United play is the antithesis of Ferguson’s era, but it’s nonetheless been effective. If we don’t win today, they will finish above us.
Two decisions for Arsène in terms of the line-up. Olivier Giroud’s goal at Old Trafford is likely to see him keep his place in the XI, no matter how ineffective he is. Mustafi will return, shifting Gabriel to the left of the trio of central defenders while I expect Coquelin to be recalled in place of Xhaka, no matter that Elneny is a better player.
It leaves the line-up:
Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny; Gabriel; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Coquelin, Monreal; Özil, Sanchez; Giroud
Finally, a new playlist is set for Dad’s Jukebox this morning. A belter in the series ‘Jukebox Classics – The Originals of Covers By‘ sees the Arctic Monkey as the lab rats. They have covered an eclectic mix of songs by other people and it may be the only time certain groups feature on my playlists!
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.