If London’s weather is anything like here, an already thin crowd will be sparser this evening. Highbury’s record low of 4k isn’t under threat but comfortably, if tonight’s match goes ahead, the attendance will be the lowest at the Emirates.
That’s no surprise. Arsène gave his usual line of defence at yesterday’s press conference. Basically, Arsenal owe him a living because he turned down everyone else down through the years. No names, no pack drill but we all know with whom he flirted every time a contract was due for renewal. He stayed for two reasons: control and security, neither of which came elsewhere.
So we reach the regular weekly convocation at London Colney. The questions came and the language is florid and evocative. Nobody expected him to resign but a little mea culpa goes a long way. We’re beyond that now.
Arsène quelled his Wildean spirit long enough to call for perspective. “We have lost a final”, he said, blaming those pesky fans for being used to “going to Wembley and winning.”
Wilfully obtuse or noodling into his dotage? It must be the former otherwise the players wouldn’t respond to him.
The pressure on him is immense and under these circumstances, media activities are surely unpleasant. That’s part and parcel of the £12m salary he is unable to walk away from. He gave Kroenke an out: “My job is to focus on performing and my job is to perform.”
It entwines with Ivan’s 2011 mantra about the relationship between Wenger and the fans. To paraphrase, the manager will be out if his relationship with us breaks down. No amount of superglue to repair it. Twice he’s ignored the opportunity to walk off into the sunset with a trophy tucked under his belt; there isn’t likely to be a third time lucky.
Sap Our Strength
The perspective Wenger wants isn’t one he is prepared to publicly agree with. Our form is awful this year with six defeats in 12 against opposition – Manchester City and Tottenham aside – which is distinctly average. Losing to Östersunds at home didn’t impact on the aggregate but it reinforced the negative aspects of our form. Another defeat to a team we shouldn’t lose to.
Gary Neville gave Sky what they wanted when he savaged the team on Sunday. It provoked the social media activists who proclaimed the former United man was a pundit because he was a crap manager. Or he loved City because of the money they spent. Basically, anything but admitting he was right when he criticised our style of play.
That was always Wenger’s Get Out of Jail Free card: Wengerball. We didn’t win much silverware but we looked good losing. The media had his back; they do now but only for stabbing practice.
It’s the reality of his situation. Tetchiness about journalists job security doesn’t stop the questions being asked. Wenger can feel the walls closing in on him and knows results are the only way to stop it happening. There isn’t an accomplice to help him. We face the consequences of our electronic echo chambers, he has the same with the coaching staff who are afraid to take his methods to task.
The result is a more ‘direct’ style of play. Simple passing and movement are no longer effective. Where we once laboured but eventually broke sides down with pass after pass, we now labour. The ‘out ball’ is a defender putting his foot through the ball and asking Cat to chase. It’s not an ‘out ball’ if he doesn’t get to it; it’s just a ball that is coming right back at you.
Lose the Truth in a Complex of Lies
Arsenal is a club in desperate need of revitalisation. We need fresh blood. Chips talking about breaking the club’s transfer record twice means nothing when the money isn’t spent wisely. A squad with gaping holes all over the pitch is not going to be repaired by two £50m strikers. They help but you still need goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders to come in.
And underpinning it all, you need an effective managerial philosophy.
Someone talked out of school later in the day. Jack Wilshere rejected the contract offer on the table and inevitably is heading for the exit. Tough-talking through the back pages by club and player. It’s the way of the world, mirroring the brinkmanship of the Brexit negotiations. How talks between Jack and Arsenal are going is anyone’s guess and within that, everyone has a view on whether the club’s stance is right or wrong.
Wilshere holds the whip hand. Arsenal staved off disaster with Mesut Özil staying but the England midfielder presents another problem. Not only for the midfield but in being homegrown. Reliance on youngsters to fill those quotas continues the problems of a dual-stream squad; we lack the depth when injuries and loss of form strikes. There’s a balance to be had and we’re heading in the wrong direction at present.
Anyway, to tonight’s game if it goes ahead. Sunday’s team with Mkhitaryan coming in. Defensively, we’ll switch to a four with Chambers making way. We’ll either put in a performance which makes you wonder why we play so awfully most weeks or get shredded.
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Ramsey; Wilshere, Özil, Mkhitaryan; Aubameyang
Enjoy the match (if it goes ahead) wherever you are watching it.