Following his blistering AGM set, Sir Chips gets to meet his adoring public once again and no doubt will deal with it like the old banker that he is.
Fortunately, that’s just a sideshow – an unwelcome and unnecessary one at that – to the main event. The rarest of creatures, a 3pm Saturday kick-off. Proper football is back. It was already, it returned at Everton last Sunday and there’s no real reason to change that line-up:
Cech; Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal; Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Sanchez, Lacazette, Özil
The pressure is on the front three. Last weekend’s devastating performance at Goodison Park whet the appetite with a thumpingly good team display. At the forefront of that, the attacking trio each grabbed a goal for their efforts in a ruthless display.
Expectations rocketed last week at what will be no more than a ‘one season wonder’. Today might prove to be the ‘difficult second album’ with Swansea under no pressure to gift us the same time and space as Everton.
A bigger question is behind them. Aaron Ramsey thrived in being let loose from defensive duties but the need for concentration proved too much for Granit Xhaka. He is enduring a spell similar to that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered a couple of years ago: every mistake results in a goal. It’s a rough ride that he needs to play himself out of. It marred an otherwise good performance on Merseyside.
However, there have been other instances this season which put his place in the team under threat. Can Jack Wilshere replace him? I don’t think so unless he has a purely defensive midfielder alongside him in what would be a 3-5-2 formation. The soon-to-be-recalled England international is much more likely to come into the XI for Ramsey or Özil.
Like a Druid in the Old Days
At his press conference, Arsène sought to give a longer term view of the game rather than the immediacy which has always underpinned football. There has never been a time since the demise of the secretary-manager when results weren’t the benchmark by which a manager is judged. Even in those all-powerful days, there was no security of tenure, the same applies now.
Things aren’t going to change simply because he declares that he wants “to [win the Premier League] before you get me out of here.”
That is unlikely to happen this season with the painful defeats already suffered. It isn’t impossible, I just don’t think we can hit the kind of consistent form needed to be champions. Manchester City are the best team so far but we’re just about one-fifth of the way through the season. Uncatchable? No. Unbeatable? No.
But we are a long way from being the side that catches them.
The life of a fan has never been any different. We are lifted by victory and a good performance exaggerates that euphoria but on the flip side, mundanity numbs the senses. The win at Everton was well-deserved and worth celebrating but to use it as a pointer to a title challenge at this stage of the season is a pointer. Ten consecutive wins in the Premier League will persuade me to change that view.
There’s a Canute-like tendency with Arsène to rail against everything being ‘now!’ in modern life. While I agree that the pursuit of wealth and celebrity are grotesque, we adapt and survive; so must he in his chosen field rather than becoming an anachronism.
And let’s not forget, the now is the Premier League. It’s so ‘now’, it’s painful. Celebrity, chasing wealth, glory; everything he detests, he contributes to significantly.
Eagles in a Sunbeam
As much as I’d like to believe we’ve turned a new leaf, got a new message into the squad, these players are very much creatures of habit.
Arsène is well aware of expectations after last weekend’s performance. He singled out the trio of Özil, Lacazette, and Sanchez, almost in a warning. It isn’t just down to them, but “the speed of our passing will be absolutely important”. No sideways balls across the width of the pitch while the visitors assemble in almost impenetrable massed ranks.
Adding emphasis, he highlighted that it is not just down to them to fashion opportunities. “I believe as well that up front you depend a lot on the quality of the build-up at the back,” as if to let the rest of the team know they are the keys to unlocking defences.
Everton were undone by pace, an easy attribute to exploit on the counter-attack. At home we need to add more guile so we don’t fall back into possession for possession’s sake. In the modern game, eyebrows are raised when you win with 73% possession stats, almost as if holding onto the ball is an anathema. We see enough of the ball in every game to win but ruthlessness is frequently our downfall. Or a lack of it.
Last weekend, we were ruthless. Repeat that and this is three comfortable points for the taking.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.