S o here we go. Yes, it’s a friendly and no doubt Wembley will be fuller than it was yesterday for Spurs match against Juventus. Whether that will create issues for the pitch for today’s match is the question. Down the years, Wembley’s turf has never been brilliant after frequent use; we’ll see if it’s a particular issue as today’s match drags on.
The traditional curtain-raiser isn’t a signpost of what is to come in the next nine months. Our performance today doesn’t tell us anything more than how we’ve played in the ninety minutes or whether we can take a penalty or two. It points to how Wenger sees his preferred XI lining up although injury concerns surely preclude Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey’s inclusion. Equally, while Alexis may demand to play, like Mustafi he’s been back in training for less than a week. Sorry, for me that quartet should even be on the bench, even if they declare themselves fit.
This is a friendly and whilst there is a nice drinks tray for the boardroom of the winners, the home game against Leicester City is far more important. The FA kindly declared it a non-competitive match, allowing Laurent Koscielny to get in some match fitness before he has a fortnight off. It means the back three is likely Rob Holding, Koscielny and Nacho Monreal.
Back To Reality
Speaking ahead of today’s match, Arsène re-iterated his view that the winners of the Europa League shouldn’t automatically qualify for the Champions League. But like me railing against the inclusion of teams which aren’t champions in that competition, it’s going nowhere.
He also offered his backing to the FA’s initiative to retrospectively punish diving. The recently-announced panel members include Lee Dixon and Wenger declared himself in favour of punishing cheats. Eduardo, Robert Pires; punishment was meted out more readily against Arsenal players than those at other clubs, it seemed. We’re not victimised but I wouldn’t argue that other players get more lattitude than ours were in the past.
Hopefully the process won’t be as forlornly implemented as the shirt-pulling which far from being eradicated from the game, is now far more blatant than before. An early penalty aside – was it Mike Dean who awarded it? – referees shied away from punishing transgressors all too quickly for any positive impact on the game. Indeed, penalties awarded for this sin are mired in controversy because, as usual, the rules are applied inconsistently. Not just between different referees but the same in official in different matches.
Dixon and fellow pundit Danny Murphy face a tough task when on television. Their pronoucements about a player’s innocence or guilt will be seized upon, irrespective of the outcome. The danger is that the FA panel becomes a Kangaroo Court, more concerned with the opinions of Match of the Day and ITV rather than making the correct decision.
Contentious cases will as ever, remain exactly that. No-one has yet explained how the panel will decide on anything other than a ‘not guilty’ verdict in those incidents. Unless you know the player’s mind, any tribunal must find in their favour. Doesn’t it…?
Wherever I Lay My Crutch That’s My Home
One man set to vex minds more than most is Jack Wilshere. Depised by many because he is a talented English midfielder and the punchbag for those who feel Aaron Ramsey is victimised. Last season, he was criticised for not running the Bournemouth show but I think that the spell achieved its’ primary objective of proving he can stay fit. Even considering his season ended following a fracture suffered at White Hart Lane.
It is not passed because he has the talent to be regular, but he has to come back to competition in a consistent way.
There are lessons for Arsenal to learn in that respect. Bournemouth managed to cajole Wilshere back to full fitness and maintain it which puts pressure on the club medic to replicate that process. Failure in that sense will be a damning indictment but even if they manage to do that, is there a place in the starting line-up for England international?
It’s something I touched on a while back and as much as I like him as a player, I struggle to see his place in the XI, even more so in a 3-4-3 than before. If he scored more then one of hte two overtly attacking roles would surely be his.
However, I’m still lean toward the exit door for him this summer; it’s as much in his best interests as the club’s. We could keep him and retain that strong ‘squad’ ethos or invest in a new generation / combination of talent.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.