The expected sacking of Louis Van Gaal took place yesterday, following the reported briefings from Team Special One in the wake of United’s FA Cup final win on Saturday. The interesting stat – or vaguely interesting one – came was that the accumulated time in charge for the rest of the Premier League managers was substantially shorter than Arsène’s time at Arsenal.
It underlines how exceptional his time at the club has been. The reality is that most managers are fortunate to enter their third season in charge at any one club and it’s definitely the route that I think Arsenal will follow when Wenger eventually retires. Longevity will be a thing of the past and most likely, the manager’s role will transform more into that of a coach as English clubs morph into the same model as their European counterparts.
That will see a fundamental shift in the way clubs operate and that won’t necessarily be a bad thing. A Director of Football overseeing aspects not relating to the first team maintains focus without distraction. Players now are more immune to speculation about a manager’s future; the days of the ‘father figure’ are well and truly over.
As for Mourinho, welcoming him back is the last thing that many of us have in mind. He casts a pall over the English game with his sullen moodiness and vulgarity. Whilst some find the eulogies for Jurgen Klopp distasteful, the truth is that he is a bright guy with a good turn of phrase. It gives the media the copy they want.
Like Guardiola, he suffers at Arsenal with Arsène’s ardent admirers resenting the praise lavished on him. The similarities are there: both won titles and cups, both lost Champions League finals and took good sides down into mid-table obscurity in their final season having won the title previously. No wonder he isn’t flavour of the month.
George Graham did that too. Like Arsène he had a penchant for collecting midfielders toward the end of his reign. Unlike Wenger, Graham’s were hardworking but limited; flair had been eradicated from his sides in the final two seasons of his reign. Arsène prefers the diminutive creative perma-injured technicians.
Jack Wilshere fits the bill perfectly. Injured for most of this season, he’s back just in time to prove his fitness for Roy Hodgson’s doomed June Euro2016 campaign, at least that’s the view of many Euro 2016 tips. Where Jack fits in is a matter of debate. Some argue his performance on Sunday shouldn’t even let him onto the plane whilst the more rational accept that match sharpness continues to be his primary concern.
Which is his best position is another thing. Ask Jack – and assembled hacks did – where he prefers and he leaves you in no doubt that he wants to play centrally,
With Arsenal I’ve been playing out wide, which is not me. I’m not a wide man, but Roy seems to have faith in me in the middle, so I’m happy with that.
Where in the centre is a matter of debate. His injury record suggests that being in the thick of the action may not be the best place for him but it’s where Jack is happiest. On Sunday, he was welcomed back with a rap around the ankles which left him on the turf with a rueful look in his eyes. I’m sure the first thought through his mind after the expletives, was about the damage done. Fortunately, this time it wasn’t bad.
It would be interesting to know if he wears extra protection around his ankles. With tackling from behind prevalent at the time, John Radford put shinpads down the back of his legs as well as the front for a while. Wilshere should certainly have padding around his ankles at the very least.
His style of play attracts criticism with many believing he invites problems by holding onto the ball and dribbling. There was some debate a couple of years ago about whether he would be better suited to the deeper-lying role and for a while Hodgson seemed to agree, using Wilshere at the base of a diamond. The problem is that Jack isn’t the best tackler so needs a defensive midfielder alongside him to provide a proper barrier to the defence.
Diamonds aren’t forever and Hodgson is back to a more orthodox formation. Wilshere is most likely to play centrally with Henderson filling the other role. Does it help his Arsenal ambitions? Not while Santi Cazorla is still in good form with the much-vaunted midfield pairing of Wilshere and Ramsey likely to be seen in the future if the Welshman doesn’t mind playing on the right.
It’s all hypothetical anyway. Jack has to get fit and stay that way before any other ambitions can be taken seriously. Starting 2016/17 fit is about the only thing he should be aiming for at the moment.