It would be the ultimate ‘banter’. Not in Keys or Green misogynistic way but genuine banter. Ivan hiring Arsène at Milan because they “haven’t shown enough improvement”. I don’t whether to laugh or clear a space in the pantheon of Arsenal greats for Gazidis. If they then bring Gervinho from Parma to the San Siro, that would just about top it all off.
Arsenal meanwhile continue to bear down on the Invincibles 49-game unbeaten run; just 35 to go to equal the record. Sporting this week is surely another notch on the counting stick?
A win puts us into the knockout phase, irrespective of results elsewhere. That brings some comfort to Unai Emery, knowing that the trip to Ukraine before the North London derby is a game where he can rest some of the first-choice players if needed. The squad which travels to Vorskla will be one he thinks can win the game but it isn’t imperative, especially with the pointless Qarabag.
In between, there is an interminable international break. All the whoopin’ and hollerin’ can be heard for miles. And with Wayne Rooney involved, the number six dance after England have beaten the USA!USA!USA! will surely be lively. For the elderly ladies of the parish, at the very least.
The FA brushed aside criticism of Rooney’s involvement, claiming it was a way for the nation to say goodbye to a “popular player”. It’s funny but my abiding memory of him in an England shirt isn’t the actions of a “popular player”. It’s of a boorish Premier League era player who can’t understand why everyone doesn’t worship at the altar of Wayne.
The Wayne Rooney Foundation is the charity of the night and fair play for doing that but please tell me this isn’t the reason England take on Trumpland?
Words of Wisdom and Hope
There is an Arsenal-related point to this. While the involvement of DC United’s talisman will make selling the US rights to the match much easier, it’s a game where Southgate surely needs to be looking to the future?
He did so to some extent in bringing on Jadon Sancho against Croatia and Spain but there are other youngsters worthy of inclusion on ‘grab a granny’ night. Reiss Nelson is one, for example.
It’s a bit bandwagonesque, I know, but with five goals this season in the Bundesliga already he is surely worth looking at in the game? To put it into context, Robert Lewandowski has scored five goals this season as well.
Julian Nagelsmann is a similar manager to Unai Emery in many respects. Both demand more from players, publicly. That was something Arsène rarely did and certainly nowhere near as brutally as the German. Speaking after the recent win over Leverkusen in which Nelson scored, the soon-to-be Leipzig coach observed: “I am not entirely happy with his performance.”
Surprisingly for a footballer, his head is screwed on. Nelson lives in Heidelberg with his mum and siblings. I seem to recall reading somewhere his family has a Germanic heritage, which may make things easier. Or be total codswallop if I’ve confused him with someone else.
Anyway, the gist of it is that his performances for England Under-21s warrant a closer look for Southgate, as do those of Rob Holding. Harry Maguire is reportedly out of the England’s games and with a dearth of native defenders who are comfortable on the ball, surely Holding played himself into contention?
Maybe, and I’m just floating this for the tin hat brigade. Is there a conspiracy against Arsenal at the FA and Southgate isn’t picking Holding because of it?
Of course there isn’t. Holding though is growing in confidence and not shying away from responsibility. When Xhaka played left-back, Holding was not shy in covering. When he partners Mustafi, he’s covering both central defensive roles…
The timing of the rise of the next generation of English players at the club is coincidental. Rather like Bertie Mee benefited from Billy Wright’s youth signings, Unai Emery is doing the same with Arsène’s. Like Mee – and his coaches – the continued development reaps rewards but having the raw materials in the first place is key.
It’s not about a British core, an English core; it’s about the players themselves. Which is a bit of a curious given I’ve just advocated their call-ups to the England squad. The difference is that this isn’t a marketing ploy.