Some time ago, a former work colleague wrote his own screensaver. Every day, a countdown clock ticked one day closer to a point a couple of years in the future. That was the day when his share options matured; he intended to cash them in and retire. I left well before that day so don’t know if he ‘lived the dream’.
I hope he did; the firm went belly up three or four years after floating on the stock exchange.
Arsène’s countdown clock is ticking. Would he measure it by days or games left? The latter is tricking; it might need resetting after the Europa League semi-final, extending the deadline by one. Or if his superconfidence is misplaced, reduced it by the same amount. A tough call.
To this afternoon then, and if you can get past the emotional outpouring which continues from Friday’s announcement, there’s a football match to be played. And quite an important one. While we face West Ham, Burnley play at Stoke; dropping points will give us a sharp reminder of why we find ourselves at this moment in time.
Arsenal must win; forget the Wenger circus going on, this is about the future. While Arsène begins his walk away, quite a few of this squad are playing for their futures and involved in what is effectively an eight-game audition in front of the new manager. You can bet your bottom dollar that the contenders for Arsène’s hot seat will be watching very closely. The best contender will have seen all our matches this season and be working on an outline of a plan to take us forward.
A goalkeeper, centre backs, and defensive midfielder; the players, coaching, tactics. We see this so a professional will also. That’s our hope, anyway.
Spinning, Turning: It’s All Rotating
With Atletico visiting on Thursday, the XI will be rotated. Laurent Koscielny’s Achilles isn’t up to two games a week so we’re left without a handbrake on Mustafi’s harum-scarum defending. However, after last weekend, we need a good performance so I’d expect Bellerin to be restored to the XI. Which begs the question, Holding or Chambers alongside the German.
To be honest, I’m not sure. Chambers seems to be higher in the pecking order but Holding may get the nod today. He is less rash in the centre than his compadre and let’s be honest, both are less rash than Mustafi. I doubt we will see the younger pairing this afternoon, however.
It seems too risky and while Arsène accepts the top four is gone, I’m sure he won’t want to see us finish lower than sixth. It’s a balancing act, winning the Europa League or finishing sixth. The former is a tangible, something shiny. We need to ask ourselves, does the latter matter with Friday’s turn of events? To some, it will.
The biggest question is whether Lacazette and Aubameyang start together? Last weekend was a mitigated success. Even though there was a goal, it was very much a square peg in round hole territory. We’re not built for a double-pronged attack so everything fits into the 4-3-3. Not very well at times.
And do we risk Lacazette? Diego Costa’s absence from the Atletico side for the first leg the warning we must heed. We won’t.
It’s another opportunity for the kids if Arsène is so inclined. Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nketiah? Seems unlikely given the latter pair played at West Ham in the Under-23’s title win on Friday night. Iwobi, Elneny, Welbeck, with Kolasinac. We’re low on options for rotating the side.
How much cotton wool do you have?
Plaudits and Brickbats
All of which leaves a line-up of something like:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac; Elneny, Maitland-Niles; Iwobi, Özil, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Today’s biggest enemy as far as the players are concerned is the emotion of the occasion. But that is also their biggest strength: the desire to do well for Arsène. Surely they want to give him a big send-off and if even a tenth of what we’re told is true, that extra motivation exists. Can they harness it?
If you’re going this afternoon, enjoy yourself. Pay homage to Arsène if that’s what you want to do; it’s his time and I find there’s a churlishness surfacing in those wishing to ‘spoil the party’. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves the plaudits for what he achieved as much as the brickbats which dominated the north London skyline in recent seasons. If you’re inspired to show appreciation, go right ahead.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.