The regular interruptions of the international breaks don’t make them any easier to tolerate. We don’t get any more used to them nor do we love them any better. Or at least I don’t.
Nor will the invented competitiveness of the UEFA Nations League, with its contrived promotion and relegation issues, improve that situation. Less than two months since the World Cup final and just four games into the season, we find ourselves on a break. Seeing less of the football which matters.
Having promotion and relegation issues will prove manna from heaven for the media and make the England manager’s job enough tougher. The headlines will scream about England being relegated, demanding the incumbent is sacked. And when promotion is achieved, the back pages will belittle any achievement with ridicule. The front pages won’t; success in the eyes of the football-hating editors is purely down to England thriving after Brexit on every level.
Yet we’re still playing Switzerland in a meaningless friendly? Surely there’s more imagination at the FA than European opponents? Why not face non-European opponents? We see enough of European teams in qualifying tournaments and now this shape-shifting league set-up. Let’s have a bit of variety and see how the rest of the world deals with our aimless long balls.
Maybe I’m too quick to judge the Nations League but the rush for judgement is typical of today’s football. The instant reaction is ready at hand to the extent where Arsenal are, for example, not a work-in-progress heading in the right direction, but a crisis waiting to happen. We haven’t thrown away silly points yet – we will, don’t worry – but ‘the Premier League isn’t scared of us’ narrative is just a short tube ride to crisis. And crisis is normally the end of the line.
Not for Unai Emery. He’s got a board which won’t react with the indecent haste of Manchester United when they sacked David Moyes. United went with Ferguson-lite and learned a painful lesson that continuity in a similar vein is not a solution. Arsenal didn’t go for Wenger-lite with the re-education of players into a different philosophy, being a long process.
Possible longer than you think if Alexandre Lacazette’s assertion that the players are “learning like children”, which conjured all sorts of playground shenanigans in my mind. That dreaded moment when the parents pick the players up from training: “Mrs Özil, could I have a quick word, please?”
“Is there a problem at home? Mesut doesn’t seem himself?”
“Well, the boys from the big school called him names but we dealt with that.”
“Is it solved? We don’t tolerate that at this school, do we, Marty? Sorry, Mesut”
“He thinks you don’t like him because you keep bringing him indoors before playtime ends”
“Of course we like him. He’s just not doing as he’s told. We’ve got some new rules and everyone has to obey them…”
Lacazette’s observation is spot on in the sense that like children, the players are being taught by rote. The difference is where we educate children to pass exams and have nine months to do so, Arsenal face a test every week. We get the results as we go along but it doesn’t make things any easier to learn.
The concern is the type of mistakes we make, not that we make them in the first place. We’re making schoolboy errors in a man’s game and that is a concern. Everyone errs but when the same mistakes are repeated, you question whether they will ever learn.
Puzzling Times for Unai
Cech’s jitters, for example, I would expect him to be more confident playing out from the back but he isn’t. The question is whether he ever will be? I don’t think so, primarily because he is so one-footed. That opens a door for Leno. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle for Emery. He’s got a fortnight during which time he can work hard in training with the players not called up by national squads.
It’s a hotch-potch of players with the spine of the side missing [insert your own joke here] but needs must. The reality is that we won’t see a tangible improvement next time out with just one or two training sessions for most players.
However, the basic errors, like ceding possession too cheaply, don’t need to be worked on at Arsenal. These are lapses in concentration which the players must address in themselves. And that is down to learning like adults. We’ll see who the grown-ups really are.