Arsène cut to the chase yesterday with the team news for Sunday. Bellerin, Coquelin and Gibbs are all fit, Giroud as well, but not Theo, no. They’ve looked everywhere for him, under sofas, in cupboards but the little scamp is proving pretty damned good at this hide and seek malarkey. There’s a joke in there about hiding on the pitch, but I’m not going there, no siree. Per Mertesacker won’t face Burnley either; he’s a couple of weeks from full training. He hurt himself picking up the pen to extend his contract and has put his back out; three weeks, Dr Wenger said, before the German returned to full training.
Unsurprisingly, Le Boss spoke positively about Sean Dyche’s side this season, who are no doubt grateful that their rivals are so hopeless. Knowing Sunderland, Swansea and Palace are so awful eased the pressure on them a little and they have flourished at home. Sitting comfortably in mid-table, they await their first away win of the season, a distinction they share with Leicester in the top flight. Burnley’s sole point on their travels came at Old Trafford, so we’ll no doubt donate the second one to their cause.
Arsène’s press conference was the usual wide-ranging affair, with his thoughts on Sunday accompanied by monologues on China, Marco van Basten’s drug and alcohol induced plans for football – conceiving those ideas when sober seems impossible – and of course, Per Mertesacker’s extended contract.
The latter popped into my head with Per as Inspector Gadget and his arm extending toward the manager’s office to put pen to paper. And like any good earworm, all I’ve got in my head is the cartoon series theme tune.
Not even William Shatner and Henry Rollins’ I Can’t Get Behind That has been able to remove it.
Burnley’s Too Soon For Per
The German is a key player in the manager’s mind. A useful squad player but more important in Wenger’s eyes as a leader on the training pitch. This is no doubt his final contract renewal; the curse of the Arsenal captain strikes again with appearances few and far between. Get your prayer mats out for Laurent Koscielny next season.
Mertesacker is no doubt the ‘cup centre back’ and will fleetingly appear in the Premier League. In the twilight of his career, he’s reconciled to that. For a younger player such as Rob Holding, that’s no bad thing. There’s no apparent clamour for him to be retained as a coach, or at least not to the pitch it reached for Mikel Arteta to stay.
That’s a fair(ish) criticism of the Arsenal set-up. New ideas from a fresh injection of new blood don’t happen too often. Arsène, when speaking about van Basten’s lunacy, said “change isn’t a quality, improvement is”, and no doubt points to improving finishes from 4th to 2nd as vindication of that.
If that is the case, and as with most things on here, its conjecture, the opposite holds true. Does he shake up the staff next summer – I assume he’s renewing his contract at this point – or keep faith with those who serve him well (in his opinion)? It’s a tough call; Wenger has previously been loyal to a fault, and wholesale change isn’t in his nature. If he doesn’t sign da ting, there’s no doubt there will be wholesale change at the club next summer. That’s a crucial part of the process for the new manager to deal with and arguably where Moyes made his biggest mistake at Old Trafford when he took over.
There was nothing new in van Basten’s ideas; all of them have been floated at some point in the past and usually to disastrous effect. None of them is worth contemplating seriously beyond the notion of a sin bin, but Jimmy Hill thought of that four decades ago. There is nothing new in modern football.
Arsène is more gracious than we. On a day when Emmanuel Adebayor pondered why he suffered from a poor reputation in England, van Basten’s report raised a question which was never asked. Would Adebayor’s career have reached greater heights if offside didn’t exist? Arsène is too polite to answer, even wistfully.
On Me Head, Me Old China
The media builds the threat up but frankly, is Chinese cash so much to worry about from the player perspective? I’m not convinced it is; none of the players who moved to the Far East (so far) has been of the quality I want at Arsenal. Tevez isn’t in his peak, nor are a host of others.
Money isn’t buying them outstanding players, simply advertising boards. I’d question whether any of them will, in those circumstances, improve the indigenous playing standards? There’s a strong case to say no. Interestingly, Arsène thought India is more of an emerging market which makes sense in that the game is relying more on local players. Maybe that rather than the decadent spending is causing more concern at the China FA HQ?
It is simple, though. Until Chinese clubs sign a number of players at the peak of their careers, Europe will remain the game’s stronghold. I’d question whether the Premier League is the best league in the world at the moment. The most exciting but as the resident marketing suits always gloss over, exciting is always best. Certainly the absence of Champions League finalists/winners, and England’s continuing dismal international performances, call claims to be the best into question.
And maybe that’s the lesson China needs to heed. The Premier League proves that you can have all the money you want but if the quality isn’t there…
Finally, Dad’s Jukebox reaches 1989 today in Times of our Lives. The post will be up by lunchtime. There’s something about that year that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’ll come to me, I’m sure.