Friday is here, one day before the weekend and more importantly, the Arsenal are playing on Saturday. Be still my beating heart.
Which is something which needs to happen at UEFA House and FIFAStrasse. I don’t think any of us realise how tough it is at the top of the footballing tree. You do, after all, have to work jolly hard to come up with one idea a day which will complete discredit your organisation and ruin football if it’s implemented.
Gianni started the ball rolling with his 48-team World Cup finals tournament, with 16 teams pitching up in a country for a play-off match to decide if they go forward to the traditional group phase. On the plus side, it would cut short England’s agony, I suppose.
But he’s a past master at these things, presiding over UEFA for a number of years and gaining plenty of experience on how to come up with stupid ideas. His successor’s a fast learner as well. Apparently, they want to play the Champions League final outside of Europe now. Still, should be easier than getting out of Wembley after a 5pm kick-off on a Saturday night.
Arsène faces the press in about an hour or so – or earlier this morning if the usual slack-jawed posting schedule continues – with rotation likely to be the topic of the day. That’s after the obligatory questions about his contract with Diego Simeone apparently looking to move to England in time for the 2018/19 season: one-year extension for Monsieur Wenger? The odds are apparently shortening.
Wednesday night games have a drawback with one less day’s rest before the next match but when an almost completely changed XI will face Reading next week, is as much rotation needed?
I know some are keen for Lucas Perez to get more match time but after coming back from injury, it’s unlikely he will start on Saturday. Probably less for that reason but down to the fact that Alexis is in fine form at the moment. The problem with a team as defensively poor as Ludogrets is that it tends to raise your estimation of player’s performance levels.
In Alexis’s case, that’s not an issue. He’s been playing well and with the team more confident, is being given the service which allows him to thrive as a central striker. Previous seasons have seen his performances neutered by a lack of support; it’s not an issue now and we’re seeing how well he can play centrally.
Which eases the pressure on Olivier Giroud’s return with no need for Arsène to rush him back. Not that I think there is any intention to. Whilst the manager has been supportive of his compatriot, I do wonder if the barren run of 15 games last season was the straw which broke the camel’s back for Wenger. Even by Giroud’s standards, it was a long stretch without a goal and may be influencing Arsène’s view of how the team should play. He’s not a bad Plan B to have but will he return to being Plan A?
For Wenger, it’s a nice position to be in, an almost unusual one. Similar to the midfield. He’s got options with injuries not causing him issues as in previous years. In fact, returning to full fitness is the biggest headache he has and incorporating Aaron Ramsey into the formation.
The form of others dictates a lot of the decisions but having stood by the Welsh international down the years when he has been criticised by all and sundry over his form or performances when playing on the right, Arsène seems to be distancing himself from the view that Ramsey is an automatic starter.
With Xhaka and Elneny, Ramsey is looking at competing for one of the central roles with Coquelin and Cazorla. Wednesday’s brief scare over the latter may see him rested this weekend although the initial post-match interviews suggested it won’t be an issue. Which typically means it will be.
But it’s good that there are fewer certainties in the side irrespective of form. In years past, the paucity of choices meant that players could play themselves back into form; there was no particular depth to the squad and injuries gave longer stretches in the side that might be considered merited. At the moments, that’s not the case.
Özil, Sanchez, Koscielny and Bellerin are probably the only ones who won’t be dropped even with a loss of form. Walcott, Cazorla, Monreal, Cech and Mustafi may get longer than others but the left attack and defensive midfield role are up for grabs on a week-by-week basis. It’s up to the incumbents to prove their worth rather than relying on the poverty of options to keep them in the side.
A lot of that has come from not carrying perma-crocked players in the squad. The habitues of the treatment room are no longer the same faces week in, week out, year on year. The only one who might be considered in danger of heading that way is now playing every week in Bournemouth. It’s an interesting season for Jack getting his career back on track as much as the awkward questions which that will raise over Arsenal’s handling of the player.
At the moment, the ‘good times’ are rolling. We’ll make the most of it – November is just around the corner…