Coiled springs. That’s how the hacks at this morning’s press conference can best be described. Pens and laptops poised, it was a race to see who could type the variation on “I don’t talk about these things until they happen” as Arsène parried the questions on Aubameyang.
He was more forthcoming on Alexis; it could happen and in a phrase which torpedoed many who claim money is a blight on football, “I respect Man United because they raise the money they pay to players with their own resources. It’s up to them how much they pay. United is a club very well managed financially so I don’t have any problem with what they pay.”
A crushing blow to those who lump United in with City and Chelsea in disparaging financial terms. Moaninho will take that as a criticism of him, contorting the words into a jealousy-fuelled attack on him. Arsène will feel the full force of his rapier wit later in the day.
Sanchez might be off today or tomorrow but if he’s still here on Saturday, he’s playing. I know; why didn’t he play last weekend if that’s the case. Surely this time he’s even less inclined or motivated? Anyway, the good news is that Mesut Özil will still be here in February.
Arsène thought the German will be fit for Palace, along with Monreal and Koscielny. Maitland-Niles is out with the flu (flue, as the Mirror called it, although I’m sure he duct that question, chortle). It wouldn’t Alexis’ farewell show with his best chums there although the gossipy Arsenal dressing room probably suggested having it in a phone box, there would be that many people attending.
I’d guess his leaving do would be popular, with people attending just to make sure he is going and the like.
Begging to Differ
Theo’s departure came up and Arsène thanked him for all the fish. Walcott, he said, “is always welcome here.” You can tell how highly a player is thought of by the viciousness surrounding his departure. The rule of thumb is the more personal the attacks, the better the player.
A polite young man, the typical barb on his farewell has been, “thanks but you were never that good anyway”. It’s just one step away from the worst departure of all: “He’s left? When did that happen?”
Arriving to similar indifference is the real killer and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is facing that reality. His saving grace will be Pierre Emerick Aubameyang joining, deflecting some of the attention away. My view is that while Mkhitaryan is the ‘fee’ for Alexis, he’s more of a Walcott replacement. In the binary world of football, PEA is the new Sanchez.
Arsène will beg to differ. There’s no ‘new’ anybody; they are individuals replacing two servants of the club. Maybe they will be good and inspire us to glory in Europe and at home; we’re running short of options on the latter, admittedly. Both, however, must hit the ground running if we are to free ourselves from the shackles of mediocrity in which we find ourselves locked.
How would you view the transfer window if just Mkhitaryan arrived? Out would go Coquelin, Walcott and Sanchez, while in comes the Armenian. Fringe players down by two with a net zero in the first XI. Are we weaker as a result or is the jury out?
Certainly, Mkhitaryan needs to hit the scoring form shown in Dortmund to be an improvement.Standing still in terms of quality seems the likeliest outcome if he is the only incoming player. It’s a risk, but that’s Arsène’s approach to squad-building: high risk.
Aubamenyang offers a tangible sense of upgrading. The “big personality” doesn’t bother Arsène. For the moment. Plenty would say Alexis was a big personality and he went down like a lead balloon in the Arsenal dressing room; how will they cope with PEA?
Onto last night’s VAR controversy. Definitely, a penalty when Willian was tripped and Morata was lucky not be sent off for the dive, but it was Chelsea so all the more amusing. The first instance was proof that the system was not as infallible as the PGMO likes to portray. That critics are so vociferous is surprising; Shearer, in particular, missed a trick as the VAR will certainly keep him in a job for years to come if last night is anything to go by.