Short of Spurs losing and Chelsea drawing, that was as good as it gets football-wise. Sergio Aguero’s red card means he misses our trip to the Etihad under the FA’s totting up procedures; a four-match ban sees him having Christmas at home with the family rather than playing on Boxing day.
Fernandinho also misses the Arsenal game with an automatic three-match ban for his dismissal for violent conduct. Cesc Fabregas wormed his way back into our good books with his provocation of the midfielder but frankly, Kevin De Bruyne did us more favours with his miss from three feet than any red card.
With Liverpool’s self-destruction, it leaves us second which was as good as it could have been. It’s hard to know if I want Zlatan or Rojo hauled before the FA beaks. United face Spurs next weekend and need their strongest line-up to win. Both players deserve bans but whether that’s in football’s best interests is debatable. OK, Arsenal’s best interests…
We have our own matters to attend to. Basel tomorrow is an interesting match for Wenger to ponder. It’s a quick turnaround after West Ham but he doesn’t have that many options to choose from. Aside from David Ospina in for Petr Cech, he has few alternatives to his existing defensive choices. I suppose Gibbs for Monreal but that’s about it.
His biggest issue is that it’s a game we need to win but know chasing victory may ultimately prove a fool’s errand. We’re reliant on PSG dropping a ricket against Ludogorets which seems very unlikely although the 3 – 0 gubbing from Montepellier was unexpected; anything’s possible.
Which is a bit of a quick race through things as they stand. I think Arsène’s biggest issue is whether to start Alexis but I’m sure we’ll get more clues about that at his press conference later today.
One issue he has more time to ponder is what to do with Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard is set to miss another three months which at a worst case scenario, means he’s missed six months last season and four – five this. With a new deal to negotiate, the timing of his injury could hardly be worse.
It makes life hard for player and club. Santi is no spring chicken in footballing terms and at that point in his career where the next deal he signs is most likely his last. He is 32 in a fortnight and even a fully fit Cazorla may be uneasy about what happens next.
Constructing a one size fits all policy for players is extremely difficult. Arsène found that with his over-30s policy a few years back. Each case is different and here’s the ‘but’ you’ve been waiting for. When it comes to injured players, the over 30s are an easier set than most to formulate such a policy.
We’ve been stung in recent years, there’s no hiding from that. Rosicky, Arteta; fantastic players in their prime but rarely fit enough in the twilight years. Do we have room for a luxury player no matter how talented?
Cazorla clouds the issue. We’ve seen how poor the form can be without him but we’ve been good as well; Saturday was a prime example of that. The fundamental problem is the lack of a natural successor. Some believe it’s Jack Wilshere’s eventual role, others say dip into the market and come back with an Isco.
Jamie Carragher made a salient observation yesterday. Wilshere isn’t usurping Mesut Özil from the starting line-up any time soon so playing deeper is an obvious solution.
This presumes we aren’t looking at Xhaka and another in a more direct midfield. Certainly he and Coquelin dominated an extraordinarily poor West Ham on Saturday. That may not be the best performance to judge the future by but offers an example of why the solution isn’t so easy to find.
Every footballer reaches a natural ‘sell by’ date and one aspect Santi has to ponder is whether the English game is too demanding in his final years. I have no issue with Arsenal not renewing his deal so long as there is a coherent strategy to replace him.
A free transfer? Why not; in five years at the club, he’s been a vital cog in the team and this absence underlines that. However, you have to balance that against the recurring theme of injuries. Is he suffering too frequently now? Will that continue and if so, does it undermine his usefulness?
It seems a little cut-throat, missing the human element but that’s football. It always has been that way and no doubt, always will.
Finally, we’ve reached 1983 in Times Of Our Lives on Dad’s Jukebox. It’s a stonking soundtrack, which I have to say surprised me because I always thought of that year as pretty bang average music-wise. Find out more here.