Back to the run of the mill games between now and the end of the season. Some tell you that they are cup finals – yes, young Ramsey, I’m looking at you – others are more cynical such as I, believing it’s too little, too late.
If you look at the remaining fixtures, we won’t win all seven and every dropped point cranks up the pressure a little more. Lose on Sunday and a little becomes a lot. Not finishing in the top four has been a long time coming. Plenty of warnings in previous years went unheeded and Armageddon has arrived.
I’ve said for some time now that in purely sporting terms, we are in with a better chance of winning the Europa League than the Champions League. Next season is the chance to prove that. With the winners joining Europe’s élite – and Tottenham – prioritising the top four has the whiff of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The summer requires the manager – and I’m assuming it will be Arsène – to rebalance the squad so that three at the back is always a viable option, if not the preferred formation du jour. That means a busy time; not fitting square pegs into round holes. Retraining a player into a new position is part of Wenger’s repertoire but it has to be with a specific long-term plan in mind. The players must commit to the plan as well.
Running Far and Wide
That may take some doing; players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have waited some time for their run in the team. Coaxing a new role out of him requires promises to be made which can’t necessarily be kept. While right wing-back suits him, I’d prefer him to be in one of the two central midfield roles in the brave new world. His energy is a nice counterbalance to the Xhaka who played on Sunday.
Hector Bellerin is the player I have more in mind. His speed and ability is not in question but the discipline required for wing-back is different to full back. He can play there and at the moment, I’d guess the issue is confidence more than anything else. He will play for his country this summer which robs Wenger of some working time but with a month off, he should be back in pre-season in good time for the ‘big kick-off’. Between now and then, there is plenty of work to do.
There will be losers, as well as winners in these situations. Theo Walcott, if we’re honest, is nothing more than a squad player in that formation. Having been talked out of his ambition to be a central striker, he’s now finding his role in the side is substitute. Got to love the next round of contract talks with Team Walcott. Is this summer the time to cash in on what remains of his resale value? I guess his future is directly linked to what happens with Alexis.
Change For The Better, Change For The Worse
If the Chilean goes, Walcott could get a reprieve in the first team but it seems unlikely that he will be in favour any time soon with 3-4-2-1, especially as Alex Iwobi is the more natural left-sided solution in the squad.
The role of lead striker is not suited to Olivier Giroud on the basis of the last couple of performances are anything to go by. The Frenchman was hugely frustrated at Wembley and anonymous at ‘Boro. Two strikers down for a club which couldn’t land any last summer. Still there’s always Yaya Sanogo although I think his contract is up this summer. Two strikers down still…
The immediate focus is Leicester and three points. We’ve massively cocked-up games like this one already and there’s no room for manoeuvre if they are serious about getting into the top four. It’s the defeats against teams like Watford, West Brom and Crystal Palace which have undone any aspirations the squad had. Petr Cech denied it was a ‘soft’ dressing room. Sh*t happens was his basic theme, and not down to a lack of strong personalities. Which misses the point. It’s a lack of leadership which is the issue. We can all point out where it’s going wrong, it’s another thing to put it right by example and by instilling a willingness in others to follow – to trust – your decisions and plans.
Changes For Summer
You’d think Cech with his experience would be one of those leaders:
“Obviously you have some periods of games where you prepare and do the right things then the game starts and it all goes completely wrong.
“We had a difficult period where we lost games we shouldn’t have lost and obviously then you’re in a situation where you’re under pressure and need to find a way out. Sometimes you find a way out quickly, sometimes it takes a bit of time and there is damage. And I think this season we had that spell. When you lose three out of four you put yourself in a difficult position.
“I think at the start of the season we overcame falling behind in games. Sometimes you find the answer to the difficulties you face, sometimes you don’t.”
Yo, Pete! The whole point of leaders is exactly those situations. Hold on while I look at this scratched record…