The Checkatrade Trophy win at Coventry last night marked a significant moment: the international break is over. Coverage by a national radio station meant there were no other bigger fixtures elsewhere.
A perceptional change also happened. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lucas Torreira returned early to the club, not through injury but by choice. FAs co-operating with Arsenal? Never happened before; new era, etc. I dare say it did happen before, I just can’t immediately remember it. And I’ll quickly forget this moment as well.
It’s refreshing to see some enlightenment among international coaches. Not for them holding onto to ‘star’ players in desperation for a meaningless friendly. Gareth Southgate missed an opportunity to test younger players. Given England’s youngsters performed well in recent tournaments, it is disappointing he didn’t promote more of them for the Switzerland game. Or the FA skip a match entirely.
Southgate’s familiar warning that if players don’t play for their clubs, they don’t play for England is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Which is Southgate’s case is a big job.
Roberto Mancini faces similar problems in Italy where Serie A players eligible for the Azzurri is at an all-time low. Previously, the Italian authorities solved the problem by becoming a closed shop. Germany did the same by invading countries so everyone became eligible for the national team. The Italian plan might be easier to implement.
Post-Brexit England (apparently) offers that opportunity. Whether anyone wants to come to a destitute wasteland is a different matter but the theory goes that the quality of English players improves if we reduce the number of foreign nationals in the Premier League. It’s a spurious argument; the opportunities for English players increase but there’s no guarantee the quality will follow.
Ahem, This Is An Arsenal Blog You Know
Indeed, English football may be at a ‘peak’ now and there is nothing better to come in which case the ‘Sold Out’ signs won’t be hanging over ticket office windows every week if the quality drops. Those old enough to know better remember how ‘Route One’ overran English football as we sat out of European competition in the 1980s. It wasn’t even exciting most of the time.
The question is not only over the quality of the players but also the way England play. After weeks of caressing the ball for their clubs, they resort to Luddite football for their country. That’s Southgate’s department to bridge the gap between harum-scarum weekly football and the Sunday afternoon drive of internationals. Like others before him, it’s proving too big a divide to solve.
It’s almost as big as the gap between the Arsenal defence and attack. The thumping great void in the middle of the pitch is the biggest problem – literally and figuratively – which Unai Emery must solve. We offered Cardiff City so many chances to score that the issue is urgent.
While the players talk about learning a new way, they are taking leave of their senses at times and that is down to decision-making on their part. We need a genuinely defensive midfielder in the side, sosmeone who has no interest in joining the attack at every available opportunity. Step forward Señor Torreira.
From now until Christmas, we have midweek fixtures to contend with. That offers more opportunities for squad players. Does Emery shift Xhaka into the Europa League squad or Guendouzi? It’s tough on the youngster if he does but that’s life. At this stage, egos are going to be secondary to the team’s objectives. Whether Xhaka would view it the same way is another matter.
Newcastle’s form is as bad as that of Cardiff and West Ham. We are yet to see a clean sheet and while there have been mistakes on the part of the back four, the over-riding sense is that most of eight goals we’ve conceded were avoidable in their execution.
Only when the back four is properly protected can you judge which part(s) don’t work properly. The issue at the heart of the defence in the absence of any better options might be partially solved by a defensive midfielder. It might not be but we’ll never know until we try.
We shall see if that happens this weekend.