The Premier League returned last night, proving indeed that it is the Theatre of the Absurd.
Not as absurd as some losing their mind over an hour-long embargo on Unai Emery’s press conference. It doesn’t matter; it really doesn’t. In a week which saw the club’s identity sink beneath the weight of the dollar, holding back Emery’s words by an hour is insignificant.
For what it’s worth, my own view is that the club is keen to direct more people to their coverage so they control the ‘message’ instead of letting the media set the agenda, rather than worrying about the coach’s grasp of English.
Focus turns to the captaincy. Laurent Koscielny remains club captain to the chagrin of some, but in his absence, there are four captains: “Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka,” completed the list. It’s progress. We’ve been told previously that we had 11 captains on the pitch. No wonder the ship was sinking; too many chefs and not enough cooks.
Now we know who the armband belongs to. So be it; I’ve got to be honest, I don’t like goalkeepers as captains. They are too isolated from play to influence it in the same way, for example, a midfielder can. But let’s be honest, we don’t have a leader who unifies in the same way as the great captains of our past. Cech’s elevation to the first name in the list suggests he’ll play tomorrow, with Bernd Leno avoiding a baptism of fire against Manchester City.
Whether that is the rationale, I don’t know. Alisson and Kepa the Keeper are making their debuts this weekend but that is expediency on the part of Klopp and Sarri. Both of their new players hal-fit are better than Karius, Mignolet, Caballero, and Green.
Dawning of a New Era
This is the periphary of the match, we’re skirting around the edges. Despite the numbing Manchester United performance last night – Sky only chose the match because Mourinho was imploding in the USA – I’m looking forward to this afternoon’s matches and tomorrow’s, of course.
I normally do get a surge of enthusiasm before the season but the changes on the playing side of the club underpin that. There’s a sense of purpose; it might turn out to be ‘same old, same old’ but the intention is that it won’t be. That’s a good start in my book.
Emery made it clear where his philosophy diverges from Arsène’s:
“Defensively: first it is to be organised, recover the ball quickly.
“But in these two moments in the match we need to work. To say it here is easier than doing it on the pitch. We also need time, but now I am happy because I think the players are improving.
“When we are thinking in an attacking moment, I want the goalkeeper thinking for that, he is the first.
“The same when we are thinking defensively, I want our strikers to be thinking: ‘We need to protect the goalkeepers’. I want those two moments to feel the same for all players.
“Each player has this quality, this characteristic to help the team as a collective. For me, that is very important.”
Reports talk of an outdoor gym being built and training sessions governed by objectives not a stop-watch. Arsène believed 90 minutes governed everything and training within that timeframe. Emery is more concerned with the players perfecting – or at least achieving – the objective they were set. By all accounts, he won’t stop until they get it right.
Whose method is right? We’ll see over time, and certainly not in ninety minutes tomorrow.
Emery is conscious of the new beginning. Comparisons with the previous incumbent will haunt his season, not least of which will be the double completed in Wenger’s first full season in charge. It’s coming, you know it.
The Spaniard’s focus is on City and talk of the crowd being behind the players.
“Sunday, we need to show on the pitch our performance at a big level.
“The position is demanding our best moments tactically and also individually.
“It’s for that, that on Sunday I want first to be together with our supporters.
“It helps, if we’re together, for the players to show their best performance and to transmit with every supporter the quality, the energy and the spirit to go forward against Manchester City.”
I don’t think he will have an issue on that front. Indeed, perhaps a renewed energy will be apparent given the start of a new era and the optimism that things are gradually improving with respect to the playing staff.
However, the players have a responsibility as well. They capitulated woefully in all three games against City last season, despite having strong spells in the first two matches. We’ve got to see more from them in that respect. It’s rare I think they owe us a performance but certainly against City, after last season, that’s the case.
I must say, I’m optimistic we’ll get it. Not ‘super optimistic’, just more hopeful than I have been in a long time.