International break over, the players returned to training yesterday, honing fitness and skills ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Manchester City at The Emirates. Judging by the photos, some of the wounded are walking again, well, Mikel Arteta is at least. The squad it seems is getting into some sort of shape with neither Mesut Özil or Aaron Ramsey reporting for duty with the severe knocks and knacks that the media claimed they had finished their national team duties.
FIFA’s intervention in the footballing calendar, or the folly of it, is laid bare by this week. The return to training is staggered and staggering that Ramsey, along with Sanchez, won’t be available to the manager until today. How can that be right and proper? Managers – Wenger aside – have their jobs on the line in this sack-happy era and in their wisdom, the ruling bodies deem it wise to play international matches around the globe with nary a consideration given to clubs.
Little wonder friendlies attract such poor crowds; they are the international equivalent of the League Cup. Occasional good games but for the most part, rank average. With FIFA needing to incorporate a winter World Cup into the European seasons around 2022, expect in-season international friendlies to be the casualty. I, for one, won’t shed a tear. Most of the Arsenal squad would have been home Tuesday were that the case now, better than the current scenario.
Much of the talk ahead of the weekend centred around formations. England’s diamond formation with Jack Wilshere at the base offers a tantalising glimpse of the future with the prospect of he and Ramsey at the fulcrum of the Arsenal midfield. Assuming, of course, Arsène doesn’t pop to Lisbon and get Just William or someone similar. It might not happen but with the ageing – in footballing terms – Arteta and Flamini, it is a prospect for this season.
Wilshere is not a popular choice for that sort of role and of course needs to improve in certain areas but as he, Wenger and Hodgson pointed out recently, is learning, it isn’t his natural position. Down the years it may be but the readily dismissive views of some suggest minds that are closed on the matter. Whether that is the role or the player is not quite clear although the baffling antagonism towards him probably does influence opinions.
There is a fluidity to football now which needs to free supporters minds from the shackles a formation puts on our minds. At Arsenal, the attacking freedom Wenger believes in gives latitude to the players. That’s not say there aren’t disciplines for them to follow, of course there are but 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 or whatever, are often nothing but convenience for screens or pieces of paper as the game unfolds.
The interesting prospect is next year when Olivier Giroud returns. Assuming Danny Welbeck is a success, which everyone hopes yo be the case, how does Wenger accommodate everyone? Injuries and lethargy will play a part in that decision; rotate or revise seems to be the options. It would be interesting to know Giroud’s view on Welbeck’s arrival. Is he, like Suarez, seen as no threat to his place in the team or, as in the case of Higuain, a direct threat?
Anything that promotes competition, that drives performance levels up, has to be welcome, surely? The photos of David Ospina in training offer a reminder of that.
Welbeck’s sale continues to baffle many. Gary Neville pondered the price Arsenal paid in contrast to those United have during the summer. It’s payback for taking van Persie on the cheap is one way of looking at it but certainly at the reported £16m, it was a fee that smacked if desperation to sell rather than the obvious necessity of the buyer being exploited. Whatever the case, I am sure United’s bank manager isn’t losing much sleep over the transaction given their recent financial performance.
Money has come into focus with Tottenham planning the revamp of White Hart Lane. When Levy noted they would be band of wandering minstrels for a season, the obvious choices of Hackney Marshes quickly ruled themselves out of the running with parks department not wanting to get out of bed for matches of such little interest. Milton Keynes is this mornings favourite but I wonder if had topic of sharing The Emirates has been broached, informally at a Premier League soirée perhaps.
It’s nothing new, wartime has necessitated such joint operations and a ‘super stadium’ at Ally Pally in the 1970s was formally discussed by the boards of the two clubs. But The Emirates? Now? Arsenal may have benefitted from United’s largesse with Welbeck but to display a community spirit to Tottenham is inconceivable, no matter how high the rent is set. Mind you, I suppose it’s one way of getting Thursday Night Football at Arsenal, preparing the stadium staff for the seasons when Arsenal fail to make the Champions League.
It wouldn’t be the first time Arsenal had made such an offer. Not to Tottenham but to Ipswich Town in 1962. Having won the title the previous season, questions were asked about the suitability of Portman Road for European football and serious consideration was given to moving their matches to North London. That’s North London, not Middlesex.