Mr Dyke, those watches were unacceptably presented gifts. You must return it.
No, I like it.
Mr Dyke, for the integrity of FIFA, you must return the watch.
No. Give England the World Cup and I’ll think about it.
No, Mr Dyke. You must return the watch.
Mr Dyke, the watches were given as gifts but were bribes. You must return them.
That’s standard FIFA practice. Why should I give it back?
Mr Dyke. Sir Greg, if I may be so bold. Those watches weren’t expensive enough. It is not FIFAs standard practice to sell ourselves so cheaply…
Morning all, quiet pontificating and reflection seems to be the order of the day but do we want to do that? As John Wayne never said, “The hell we will!”
The Premier League returns tomorrow with the visit to The Stadium Of Light a tricky proposition. We’re not playing well, they have just come off the back of an eight-goal gubbing at Southampton. All the hallmarks of a sterile goalless draw. Such form is not just vexing the support, it’s baffling the players. Using injuries as an excuse can in some cases be valid. Olivier Giroud’s absence was disruptive, fortunately Danny Welbeck provided a relatively quick solution and settled well. But to me it quite often seems a throwaway line, one that once dispensed is unarguable even though it doesn’t bear scrutiny.
Once down that road, the absences of Özil and Koscielny are quickly cited. That’s a couple of games apiece. Never long before Theo Walcott is thrown into the mix – months not games – or Ramsey, Wilshere. Cumulative effect is my favourite and there is a point to that. Several that we have all discussed to death and I’m only going to mention…am I? Am I really going to mention one centre back? Hell, YES!
Arsène knows it, admitted it and is going to deal with it. Better late than never, you just hope it isn’t too late. Certainly in Europe, that seems unlikely but domestically, muddling through might be the order of the day for some time yet. The centre of defence is the one that causes most concern. Rashness has beset both Laurent Koscielny’s deputies, Chambers has been suspended already for yellow cards whilst Monreal played 90 minutes without a second caution on Wednesday. It comes down to experience in both cases, the younger of the pair is learning his trade and has not yet learned that sometimes, there is no necessity to foul a man who has beaten you for pace or whatever. Monreal; inexperience in the role, one that he doesn’t like but Arsène is convinced he can fulfil. Either that or Wenger didn’t like the options he had if Monreal didn’t play, perhaps Bellerin’s evening in Dortmund caused some nervousness.
Per Mertesacker looked at the World Cup as a possible cause but really that excuse went out of the window a while back. What is being highlighted is the fragility of confidence, in the players. The manager is tetchy and has been increasing irascible with the media, probably blaming them for stoking the fires of discontent. Easier to look and deflect attention; we all do it, Arsène isn’t any different from the rest of us in that sense. Perhaps that makes him less deific than some would have you believe.
Nor is he coaching good players into being bad. At the moment we have a squad whose form has collectively gone out of the window, low on confidence because their form…well, you get the picture; welcome to the vicious circle. Unfortunately, there is no outside help who can stop them in the spiral. The players, coaches, manager; they are the ones who have to find the solution. All the while it is greeted with emotions from joy through resigned indifference.
What it has highlighted is that despite thoughts to the contrary, I don’t think this squad has many ‘leaders’ in it. Arsène, on making Thomas Vermaelen captain, noted that the armband didn’t mean that much, he expected to have more than one leader in the dressing room. The memory of the forceful characters in the dressing room who had been imperious in the Premier League had not quite faded, he probably hoped that he wouldn’t have the contrived friendliness of Capi. Now, he has three World Cup winners, four if you count Santi, players who have scaled the peaks of the game. Almost a quarter of the squad but it seems few leaders. Per can hand out all the reprimands but with him leading the side, who is stepping in to help him?
To me, in simplistic terms, it’s that essence of leadership which is missing. Years ago it would have been called a “siege mentality“, one that George Graham invoked in the 1991 title-winning side when the wrath of the FA meant a points deduction. Arsène could do worse than trying to invoke that now, one where the players feel that their backs are against the wall to draw out a response. Successfully imbuing that in the squad would give a sense of team to proceedings. Maybe that’s the missing link. If Arsène can’t do it, I am sure Steve Bould can remember how Graham invoked that loyalty to each other.
I am not saying the squad is split or that it’s not friendly, far from it. This is about getting through difficult times and rediscovering form.
Beginning tomorrow on Wearside would be the perfect starting point.