Apparently, it was too soon to crack Graham Taylor jokes, even gentle ribbing, so I’ll pat that into the back pocket and keep it safe for another day. Instead, the order of the day is the signing of contract extensions by three of Arsenal’s French contingent.
Olivier Giroud, Francis Coquelin and Laurent Koscielny all signed new deals with not one jot given for Arsène’s future. Arguably, they are trio whose loyalty to Wenger is unswerving after the impact he had on their careers. Maybe there is some French ‘Omerta’, and they all know the situation. Either way, it didn’t stop them signing on the dotted line.
At his press conference this morning, Arsène offered the view that no news was good news as far as other players were concerned.
“It is important that we have stability in our squad and they are part of that. We are in the process with others.
“We always speak, I speak more with [Özil’s] agent on the contract than with him.
“Let’s not forget all these players have 18 months to go, that is a long time in football. I’m very relaxed”
Eighteen months is the contract length, but there’s a decision to be made this summer by the club. If there’s no movement, do they sell and recoup some money to find replacements? If they do that, why not just pay what is being asked, if money is the issue? Some of the stalemates are probably down to that, but there will be other factors too. Wenger was keen to point out that it wasn’t his contract talks which were holding up Mesut Özil’s deal. “I think he has been a bit misinterpreted,” he said. “I don’t think that is the main part of his decision.”
French trio new deals not surprising
Of the French players, all of them were pretty much nailed on to sign new contracts. Giroud, Wenger observed yesterday, was more “comfortable” with his situation of not being the first-choice striker. It’s fired him up, but he’s always scored in bursts. Not knowing when the barren spell is about to strike is half the problem. With the burden of being the squad’s primary source of goals is perhaps sitting better with him at the moment.
Laurent Koscielny is a world-class centre back; we’ve seen the progress he’s made since the nervy first seasons before blossoming into probably the best centre-back in the Premier League. If not the best, then certainly in the top four. Perhaps there’s a symmetry in him finishing fourth in that list.
It will be interesting to see how Coquelin develops. We got lucky with a player Wenger previously looked to sell. Revisionism dictates otherwise, but the point is that a good midfielder has emerged. If he is to continue his development, a place in Les Bleus starting XI will benefit him, but I suspect Coquelin is a man out of time with N’Golo Kante showing no sign of relenting in his pursuit of defensive perfection. Does Arsene rue not trying to sign him?
Graham Taylor, Rest In Peace
The former England manager passed away yesterday and much-maligned in his time; it’s hard to find anyone who has a bad word for him. He had the misfortune to follow Bobby Robson as expectations were higher than their already unrealistic levels. Italia ’90 was (eventually) successful and supposedly laid the groundwork for future generations. Euro ’92 and USA ’94? The less said, the better.
Taylor wasn’t blameless. His Watford side provided more of a long-ball template than any club which followed, Wimbledon included. I remember seeing their rise from the lower reaches of the Football League – they, Swansea and Swindon all featured in a promotion ‘battle royal’ in 1978/79 when the top five of the old Division Two finished the season separated by four points. No play-off agony or glory, just a straightforward three-up, three-down.
The core of that squad went on, with Swansea, to become Arsenal’s bogey sides in the early to mid-80s when we couldn’t beat Watford for love nor money. When he got the England job, the abuse he received from the media, well, if it were an animal on the receiving end, the RSPCA would have prosecuted. Did he not like that? No, but it was the England job, and he was nothing if not a proud Englishman.
On the subject of that documentary, Taylor received the ridicule, but I thought Phil Neal came out of it considerably worse. Stewart Houston’s nickname of ‘Cone Man’ might belittle his contribution but Neal was quite simply a parrot. Anything his boss said, Neal repeated; a tape stuck in a loop.
Impact on the Arsenal squad at the time
Taylor held us in his rapture at Villa, winning three of the four meetings when he was in charge. People forget that he took Villa to second in 1989/90; he was the best English manager at the time, but the national team was even more of a poisoned chalice then than it is now.
He gave Ian Wright his debut for his country at a time but arguably killed Alan Smith’s when he brought him on to end national treasure Gary Lineker’s international career, one short of Bobby Charlton’s record. Oh, how Lineker rues the pathetic penalty against Brazil at Wembley.
He had a patchy record as far as others were concerned. Paul Merson made his England début under Taylor, but the most I can immediately recall about his caps is the brace he scored in Czechoslovakia. During his reign, Lee Dixon became first-choice right back, but inexplicably David Seaman was the second choice behind Chris Woods.
Most of all, you’ll hear the phrase “football man” used about Taylor in the coming days. That seems a fitting tribute to the man.