Junior got the message. Whether he chooses to listen is another matter but a succession of positive speak out of Highbury House via the USA!USA!USA! suggest he did. Maybe he is just giving us the old ‘soft soap’ until he can send the squad back whereupon Unai Emery can put things right. That seems to be a popular preoccupation in some quarters.
Before then – as in tonight – Fiorentina await. It isn’t the same Viola which beat us 1 – 0 at Wembley; last season they finished three points above the relegation places. That after Kanu missed a penalty in Florence which proved decisive as we dropped into the Europa League. It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago when Batigol thundered the ball into the roof of the net.
It’s a by-the-by thought. If we played Fiorentina twenty weeks ago, it would have no bearing on tonight’s match, let alone 20 years ago. Unai is expected to field a strong line-up, sharpening the squad’s fitness ahead of the trip to Newcastle in a fortnight.
Which XI will start at St James Park is another matter. Without a new centre-back, I’ll be amazed if we don’t go with a back five. Not the most universally popular decision, I know; it means Mustafi plays for a start unless the club and Koscielny kiss and make up. Which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Questions will be asked on whether he is properly focused. Questions that can only be answered on the pitch, which can be a costly place to learn.
It would be good if Emery fielded some of the youngsters this evening, to give the likes of Nelson, Willock and Nketiah the chance to shine.
Don’t Do As I Do, Do As I Say
Willock, Mesut Ozil reckons, has what it takes to make the grade. Self-belief rather than arrogance; a solid work ethic which is an amusing area for the German to talk about. Looking like a secondary cast member from a Luc Besson film, Ozil said his relationship with Emery is good. Present tense, not past; Mesut, all newly-wed and loved up, is more relaxed. More focused? Let’s see if he turns up at Newcastle, both before the kick-off and during the match.
Meanwhile, the transfer talk focuses on Willy Saliba. The soon-to-be-departed Sage of Salford confirmed the youngster rejected Tottenham’s interest, launching a thousand meme’s in the process. Arsenal’s interest in Pape Abou Cissé emerged just as Senegal lost to Algeria by a fluke deflection. As the ball looped into the net, I thought that’s got to be our man; it turned out it wasn’t but such is our school of defending, you can’t blame a man for thinking the worst.
Cissé did come on as a substitute, but Senegal’s lack of composure with the final pass and in front of goal meant they lost. Those and the referee overturning his original – and extreme interpretation of the handball ‘rules’ – decision under advisement from VAR.
For those who didn’t see it, the defender kept his arm close to his body but overran his position, close to his byline. The cutback cross hit him, leaving the referee utterly confused. He took the easy way out; better to be corrected for a harsh decision than pulled up for not giving it in the first place.
Mike Riley already announced English officials wouldn’t enforcement UEFA’s prime directive on handball. That will cause problems in the Europa League at some point, as well as consigning the PGMO brigade to the bottom of the refereeing barrel.
It’s back to Edu, to finish off. The Brazilian respects Unai Emery which may help. The Spaniard, Edu remembered, worked hard; still does. Clear demarcation lines exist with Edu looking short, medium and long-term; Emery is constrained by the fixture list.
He “has to look after the very short-term [challenges], and that means Wednesday, Saturday, training sessions, looking after the opponents and the strategy of the games,” Edu observed. “I have to give him time to look after that situation, and he has to give all his energy to that very short-term, he has to look after that and I have to help him with it.”
The biggest change for both is the flip in their relationship; Edu the player is now the boss. El Jefe; Emery still the trainer. Maybe he is happy with that and prefers the relationship that way. Absolve the coach of unnecessary paperwork; Arsene wanted the all-encompassing and powerful role. To run the club.
Unai, with his clipboard, pen, and stopwatch, looks every inch the technocrat. Someone more comfortable with the intricacies of the upcoming ninety minutes than dealing with the cleaning contract. For Arsenal’s sake, I hope Edu and Emery find the chemistry both believe they had in Valencia.