The end is nigh! Millions of sandwichboard men and women wandering the streets declare the message. Not the end of the world, just the end of the international break.
The Premier League, warts and all, is nearly back. And there are a lot of warts. Take, for example, the current England captain or more accurately, the man who should be nowhere near the England captaincy.
Harry Kane sought to defend himself against charges of diving in the North London Derby. Handed a loaded gun, he shot at his foot and missed because he was already falling to the floor.
I said at the time that he didn’t dive; he cheated. He sought to con the referee. There was enough contact to make him go down but it required Kane to move a couple of feet into Sokratis to make it happen. He didn’t dive; he just cheated.
His answer, according to ESPN, was to declare, “[I have] Never [dived] and, hopefully, I don’t have to,”
What sort of answer is that? “I haven’t dived but I’m willing to do so. Reluctantly.” So, Harry, you’re admitting you’re willing to cheat to win. And I thought England was all about fair play?
Any murmur of criticism from Fleet Street? Of course not; he’s King Harry. Not the pseudo-Royal whose wife they despise for her colour or nationality. This is a coronation parade and they all want invites. Criticism sees their names scrubbed from those party invites.
The hypocrisy is dumbfounding. Had any non-English captain said the same, there would be campaigns in the back pages to eradicate cheating and questions in the House.
But this is the England captain. This is us showing ‘street smarts’; taking on those cheats at their own game. Bravo; Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!
2019-20: The Attack
Onto more pleasant matters or Arsenal, at the very least.
The final third of the season so far is the attack. After weeks of clamouring, we finally got our front three operating together. For an hour anyway, before Alexandre Lacazette’s body admitted defeat leaving just Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
So far, the attacking element of the side delivered three fewer goals so far. It’s cost us two points in bald statistical terms but who knows where else gains and losses will be made this season?
The pleasing element, for me at least, is the ease with which Nicolas Pepe has slotted into the XI. Sub appearances against Newcastle and Burnley offered promise; nutmegs here and there, devastating bursts of pace to fill the gaps in between.
At Anfield, we glimpsed the real potential with the curled effort past the post and the sprint from the halfway line which left defenders in his wake.
A lot of potential.
As with any big-signing, he could do with a goal to settle himself down. The key thing is that he does not seem overawed or burdened by the price tag. He’s playing his game and fitting into the side.
Is he being thought of as a long-term replacement for Aubameyang? An Henry-esque conversion from the wing to the central striker role? I’ve yet to see this ambition floated on his part but remember Theo Walcott saying the same. For every silver lining, there’s a cloud. Such transitions are not always successful.
Aubameyang is Aubameyang. His appetite for goals is undiminished, not that we expected it to be, and barring injury, he will be the club’s leading scorer this season. Starting on the left took some getting used to during preseason but concerns ended when he netted at Newcastle.
The glue holding the forward line together is Lacazette. Rightly voted Player of the Season last year, nothing changed this time. He is as tenacious in battle as he is clever with the ball. I can’t find fault with his performances and the impetus he gave us at Anfield underlined his importance to the team.
Where there are concerns is the lack of depth in the squad. Eddie Nketiah’s loan to Leeds means one of Lacazette, Aubameyang or Pepe must play in the domestic and European dead rubbers. Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson take two of those places; can Tyreece John-Jules play in such an inexperienced front three?
It’s unfair on the youngsters to place that burden on their shoulders, especially when Nelson is the only one with anything approaching the first-team experience we need.
Therein is our problem; I hope Raul kept some money back for January just in case we need it. Knowing our luck, we’ll suffer the season-defining injury in mid-February.
Overall, we’re not looking in bad shape up front; just a little light.
Midfield depth may be a short-term issue if concerns about injuries are correct. The rumour mill has it that Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka picked up knocks on international duty. Whether that is true or how serious they were is not clear.
Nonetheless, against a team which is struggling and certain to take, shall we say, a physical approach to Sunday’s game, it is a concern.
It raises the prospect of quite a lightweight midfield from the defensive side of the game, not that we’re heavyweights in that sense. Guendouzi, Willock and Ceballos? It’s a tough job for them and were both Torreira and Xhaka absent, it would be no surprise to see Rob Holding return to the centre of a back-three.
Club football is nearly back, I said? It’s going to be something of a long week, I suspect.