If there was going to be a winner, the respective fixture lists dictated that Manchester United were the preferrable victors in yesterday’s Mancunian derby. Whether they have entirely sunk City’s ship is debatable. Arsenal and United both face Chelsea before meeting each other so it’s feasible that Pellegrini’s men could still finish second. Unlikely, but possible.
Whilst Arsenal concentrate on the FA Cup, the Premier League will twist and turn toward its’ inevitable conclusion with Chelsea crowned champions. Having the sort of luck title winners stumble upon is one thing but Mourinho’s boorish personality has seeped into every aspect of the club and Rui Faria grasped the opportunity to swipe his boss’ crown as Premier League Boor Of The Year with his distasteful touchline antics yesterday. Whether the FA will do anything remains to be seen but inaction certainly leaves them with problems over controlling the benches in the future.
Despite eight successive Premier League wins and charging into second, Ivan Gazidis isn’t happy. We know this, because he said so and let’s be honest, it’s the headline that has swept around the world. Well, I say swept in the sense that it’s languishing in the Pellegrini slipstream because he is the one, the big kahuna who will be sacrificed on the media’s altar this summer.
With Richard Scudamore nodding sagely in the background, Gazidis noted that the Premier League is, “going to become more competitive which is going to be more challenging for clubs like us.” He believes that the money swilling in the Premier League trough means that the likes of Southampton and Tottenham will become more competitive, gradually closing the gap on the top five. In future, it will, the logic goes, be harder to qualify for the Champions League.
I can hear the chorus of be grateful for what you’ve got building. I’ve already doffed my cap in subservience.
Normally, Ivan’s words just float by but you wonder why he has said them now. Arsenal, after all, are second in the Premier League table and preparing for an FA Cup semi-final. Is he shaping the landscape for a summer of criticism if we finish without a pot to, well you know what to do with pots?
We are happy with the way the squad has developed and we are very focused how we can make a positive end to the season. After that it will be a question of how can we progress the team further so that we can have an even better season next year. We have a squad that’s clearly coming together. It’s a relatively young squad so it will continue to improve.
I don’t think there’s many who will argue that the squad is better. There aren’t many either, who will not acknowledge that injuries hit the squad hard, a point Gazidis went on to make,
We had a lot of new players this year who are beginning to gel together. We had a lot of injuries at the beginning of the season as well. Also coming off a World Cup year there are a lot of complex issues.
The World Cup is a red herring. It caused issues because of the way Arsenal dealt with it, the German contingent were given extended leave, far longer than any other club seemed to offer players from the same group. I know Arsène was mindful of the FIFA regulations and fair play to him if that’s how he best believed the individuals needed to be treated. It’s his squad and he makes the decisions on their future.
Problematically, the squad which remained was unbalanced, with insufficient cover in the centre of defence and midfield, highlighted by the injuries suffered. Giroud was replaced quickly but having lost Bacary Sagna as his emergency centre back, it was surprising that Arsène didn’t sign a third-choice in case the injuries which struck, struck.
Gabriel came in the winter but how we could have done with him or someone of his ilk in July or August. There are myriad reasons why that particular player wasn’t available last summer and I’m sure we will never know why he was unobtainable then but free to depart in January.
Arsène got lucky with Francis Coquelin, his hand forced through injury, into recalling the midfielder but it’s the sort of luck which sees champions-elect profit from three consecutive wins built on goalkeeping errors. All managers are due some during a season, why should Wenger be any different? A pity he couldn’t have stumbled across his a few games earlier when a genuine title challenge might have emerged
It isn’t all down to luck and finding the right combination, the XI which clicks, is all part of squad building. As Ivan noted, Arsène has pulled together a group where the core are approaching football maturity; they should only get better and that offers hope for coming seasons. But they need to be under no illusions about what is coming this summer. City will not accept languishing in the top four, they will spend big, seeking to weaken rivals and ride roughshod over FFP once more.
Arsenal face challenges from below as their own in seeking to climb back into the title race for a season. In the past decade, we’ve been a half-a-season club. Inconsistency rears its head for a long spell, with either title hopes fading (as last year) or a mad dash into fourth (any number of years before). It’s that which is the biggest gap to bridge and probably the most difficult.
But it’s a problem for the summer for the staff and players to address. It’s FA Cup semi-final week and time to start savouring them.