The words popped into my head in the voice of Peter O’Sullevan; we are, indeed, in the final straight of the international break. A fortnight rapidly descending into farce in Europe with a number of ‘injuries’ coming to light as players are returned to their clubs. They are all ‘very doubtful’ or ‘out’ of the weekend’s fixtures but the recuperative powers of missing a round of pointless international friendlies should never be underestimated.
And it hands Gareth Southgate a ready-made excuse for England’s inevitable defeat tonight. The interim head coach is soon to be announced as the permanent head coach due to a distinct lack of competition for the job. He, like most candidates for the England job, has his fans in the media but the dearth of English talent on the pitch is going to cause him the same issues as his predecessors: there’s nothing he can do about that.
The scale of the problem is underlined with Jordan Henderson being appointed captain tonight with Wayne Rooney on his way back to Old Trafford. Hotels close to Wembley have reported an influx of late bookings for weddings with couples relieved that uninvited guests wearing England tracksuits won’t crash the reception.
Talk of injured players inevitably turns to Alexis Sanchez, even though Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud are likely to represent their countries tonight. Not sure about Theo Walcott although Rooney’s absence makes it more likely Theo will play for England. He might well be up against Nacho Monreal if he does.
Eyes will turn later today – close to midnight here – when Chile’s attempt to derail Arsenal’s Premier League tilt get into their stride as Alexis is set to turn out for them in the World Cup qualifier against Uruguay. Head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi reassured everyone about his star striker’s fitness:
“Sánchez was not ready for the game in Colombia, but we knew the injury was a small one and we could have him for this match. The three of them [Sánchez, Vidal and Bravo] are available to me for tomorrow.
“It’s not that he hasn’t trained, he’s trained every day, even when we were in Colombia he did a different kind of work. Yesterday he took part in full training.”
Photos of Sanchez training showed him wearing a giant band-aid around his thigh, presumably to stop the inside of his legs falling onto the ground. Not so, said Pizzi:
“At no time have we received pressure from any club. My stance is that I will never use a player who is not fit or capable of playing.
“All of the clubs can remain calm, we are very respectful of our players. The health of our players is paramount, we will never force any player who has not got the medical all-clear.”
There are more holes in his statement than a colander but there is nothing which Arsenal can do about it. Wenger’s made his view clear on the situation but is powerless to do anything about it. Given he has gone relatively quiet, presumably Arsenal’s medical staff were given access to the MRI scans.
Either that or he is lying down in a darkened room recovering from the headache caused by banging his head repeatedly against a brick wall.
The cruellest part of a manager’s job is losing players through injury that isn’t down to them, particularly key players. Wenger has attracted some criticism for Alexis’ injury with the view being offered that it’s down to Arsenal’s overuse of the player. Would Alexis be suffering if there weren’t constant interruptions from internationals every four weeks or so?
Hard to know but Wenger nailed the fundamental problem with Sanchez:
“He always wants to play and that’s where it is a more sensitive case because he’s always ready to play even when injured.”
Which is where the player has to learn to manage himself. At 27, he should be able to do so by now. Then again, if you take that enthusiasm out of Alexis may diminish the player so it is, as I think Arsène has said before, a case of ‘put up and shut up’.
And that’s the perfect way to end the day’s musings.