Caution is the watchword with Arsène not prepared to take unnecessary risks over Alexis Sanchez’s fitness. The Chilean isn’t ready for tomorrow’s cup tie at home to Sunderland and won’t be risked. “He’s not bad”, Arsène said. “But he’s not ready.”
Which is good. Not that he’s not fit – that is bad – but that the manager isn’t ready to risk his longer-term plans by rushing him back into the first team, a caution which had been missing on the opening day of the season when a patently out-of-sorts Alexis emerged from the bench to little effect in the defeat by West Ham. It may not have caused injury problems on the day but his appearance certainly set the tone for the season: here was a horse that was willing to be flogged to death, revived and then flogged all over again.
You do have to wonder though. If the fixture list were reversed with Sunderland and Liverpool swapping places, would Alexis be miraculously fit? I know what you are thinking but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Not that Arsène would admit to taking the FA Cup lightly; far from it. The competition, he reminded everyone, was there to be won,
The thinking is to give absolutely everything to qualify. We are the holders of the Cup and I know as well by experience that it is very important that you get in the competition and that you have a successful third round. It’s a tricky one, always, the third round.
Not always and whilst Sunderland are a Premier League side, neither manager has made any bones about the line-ups being rotated ahead of the midweek matches. When push comes to shove, if Arsenal’s squad isn’t deeper than the Wearsiders in situations such as these, there is something seriously wrong with the player acquisition strategy. I know what you’re thinking…
It’s normal for Wenger to rotate for these games, even without the distractions of Liverpool and Stoke. Yes, they are more important but as he has seen, when the Premier League chase goes to pot, the FA Cup isn’t a bad fall-back position. Back-to-back wins have cast Arsenal into a familiar role as a good cup side.
Since the mid-60s, that’s been true. The double-winning side of ’71 were the same, reaching cup finals from 1968 to 1972 in various competitions. Had Second Division Sunderland not won the semi-final a year later, Arsenal would have reached cup finals in six consecutive seasons. Not that all of them were successful; of the five reached only two were won.
Being a good cup side is no guarantee of success but there seems to be a logic in thinking that having tasted some success, the players will want more. It’s up to the manager to then step in with plans to give them the best chance of making that happen. Next week will tell us a great deal about where Arsenal are on that path. Whatever you may think of the competition in this season’s Premier League, the title is still far from being decided.
Arsène can’t afford to take things lightly tomorrow and I’m sure he won’t. He’s a professional and can afford to leave the arrogance, the over-confidence and over-inflated sense of belief in the side, to us. That’s what we’re there for.
Elsewhere, Chelsea are apparently sizing up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a potential replacement for Eden Hazard when he limps off to Paris or Madrid this summer. I’m sure they will expect some reciprocity at having let us have Petr Cech for what looks increasingly to be a steal.
But my favourite quote of the morning is from an ‘Arsenal insider’. Don’t get your hopes up about Pep Guardiola being the next Arsenal manager. Even though the Spaniard is, “the perfect coach to take charge when Arsène calls it a day”, Wenger is “committed to the club until 2017 and maybe beyond”. There’s some realism in the ‘insider’s’ thinking. “Guardiola”, our man from Highbury House reckons, “will have signed for someone else by then.”
Could it be that someone close to the manager is concerned that if it all goes to pot there will be moves to oust him? Not according to The Sun, the source for this tale. The piece states categorically that he knows the club won’t sack him, “even with Pep waiting in the wings”.
Well, that explains why Mohammed Elneny or anyone else hasn’t been unveiled yet: the Arsenal insiders are all too busy briefing the press.