Celebrate, they say. We’ll mourn the half century since the 1966 World Cup as well. Despite Greg Dyke’s optimism, there aren’t any immediate grounds for believing a repeat of that glory is likely any time soon. It’s hard to work out which is less likely; England winning the World Cup or being designated hosts once again.
Dyke’s pep talk was as realistic as the other Pep talk dominating football at the moment. Guardiola is leaving Bayern to manage in England but nothing is signed yet. If it were, the new club would announce it straightaway which immediately ruled Arsenal out of the running. Pellegrini has accepted his five-year contract signed last summer is meaningless by claiming he would rather go out in a blaze of glory than try to build a long-term project. The best United could offer was lunch with Ian Hislop.
It’s all a sideshow for the main event which this week is the FA Cup tie on Saturday against Sunderland. Quite what side will be fielded is anyone’s guess. Both managers are expected to rotate heavily with two Premier League matches scheduled for next week.
Not quite as rare as hen’s teeth but it isn’t very often that you will find agreement with Sam Allardyce on any subject in these pages. He has a point about their schedule next week; away at Swansea on Wednesday night and down to Tottenham on Saturday lunchtime thanks to the television coverage of FA Cup ties and Premier League matches. It’s no different for Arsenal; Saturday, Wednesday and then Saturday.
But the real thrust is not just the Premier League or FA but UEFA as well. Europe’s governing body has shown themselves to be no more adept at managing the game than FIFA with their rule that no league matches from the top flights around the continent can take place on the same day as a Champions League tie. This in an era when they have bloated the Round of Sixteen to complete in four weeks when two has been perfectly fine for almost six decades.
Football can’t complain really, simply get on with it. The ideal world is to reduce the Premier League by two teams and for many years that was the stated aim from governing bodies. They don’t have the financial clout to enforce it nor the will any longer.
Arsenal have a bigger injury list and no immediate reinforcements. Mohammed Elneny’s transfer is reportedly due to be completed today with Egyptian sites claiming international clearance has been received. The player’s absence from Basel’s training ground and a ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ from team-mates reinforced that view, or were quite possibly the basis for the claims in the first place.
Mikel Arteta played forty-five minutes yesterday in the Under-21s win over Blackburn but quite where the resources which support wholesale changes for the weekend are coming from, isn’t entirely clear. Mesut Özil is everyone’s favourite to have a rest which is fine as Liverpool is more important. Thehe same rationale applies to Alexis Sanchez: a second-half substitute appearance against Sunderland to get him back in the swing of things is all that’s needed, surely?
It means that the likes of Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers get a game, likewise Kieran Gibbs. Beyond that, it is youth which holds sway and with a third consecutive FA Cup on offer, will Arsène risk fielding the equivalent of a Carling Cup side? I don’t think many more changes will be made with either of Koscielny or Mertesacker partnering Gabriel.
The Brazilian is an interesting contrast to Debuchy. His attitude is one of wanting to win his place in the side even though there are two very good players ahead of him. But he has the patience to take his chance and when included has performed well.
Perhaps it’s the luxury of time; Debuchy is in the twilight of his career (or twiglet as auto-correct had it) and wants to play every game. He hasn’t done himself any favours at all this season with poor performances when starting. Some players can drop in and out of the side with no noticeable difference; Debuchy isn’t one of them, you would have to say.
He isn’t a bad defender either. His Arsenal career was wrecked by injury but more than anything he needs a run in the side but such is Hector Bellerin’s form, that isn’t going to happen. There has been suggestion that West Brom are holding up returning Serge Gnabry from loan because they want Debuchy to replace him. That doesn’t make sense, particularly as The Baggies are limited financially; why pay for a player you aren’t using and when you’d like to take an alternative from the same club?
Gnabry is an interesting case. High expectations when he came into the side have been tempered by injury and that he can’t even get on to Albion’s bench. There’s a suggestion that he the enforced lay-off has caused psychological issues yet he is a regular member of Germany’s Under-21 squad, playing in seven of their eleven games last year.
Perhaps his tribulations at Albion are as much a problem of style, with Tony Pulis commenting in October,
Serge has come here to play games but he just hasn’t been for me, at the moment, at that level to play games.
He’s come from academy football and has not played much league football. Does academy football really prepare players for league football? And we’re talking about Premier League football here.
As a manager you pick a team that’s going to win a game of football. You pick your best team, you don’t leave people out because you don’t like them, because of this, that and the other.’
Is it more that Albion was a step too far too quickly for a player who has yet to make a dozen Premier League appearances than an issue per se with Gnabry? That’s supported by Brighton being suitors if Arsenal loan him again and Arsène too, has been critical in the past of the structure of competitive football below the first XI. It may well be that the young German has been scarred by being out of the game for a while but Arsenal as a club and other squad members are well-versed in that situation; surely someone was working with him on that or is that just too damned idealistic?