The back page barometer tells us Arsenal are in relatively good shape these days.
For the latest scoop, you must scroll a fair way down, negotiating the heap of rusting broken cannons hidden under tarpaulin in the corner.
The fat lady is gargling whilst loading her hunting rifle. Her target is the basketball beneath the chicken’s feet, ready to bring down the curtain on Mr Successful’s reign.
The scent of managerial change is in the air but strongest in the North West. Despite a vote of confidence from Robin Cook’s Spitting Image puppet, Ole’s still at the wheel and piloting the ship straight into the rocks.
There will be a brief respite for Solskjaer on Monday. Arsenal are in town and in the mood to donate points.
It’s interesting how a particular ground gets into the psyche of players. When I say “interesting”, I really mean “How the hell does it happen?”
United aren’t Ferguson’s title-winning machine of yesteryear but a crap tribute band to the Ron Atkinson era. Not even flattering to deceive; just a distinctly average gang of underwhelming expensive flops.
Yet we still shiver in their awe, freezing when we step onto the Old Trafford turf. Granted, some of the time, we’ve had poor teams taking to the pitch. But other times, we haven’t; not by a long shot.
And we still lost.
The reality is that we’ll beat ourselves before United get the chance to. Certainly, there’s good reason to believe we won’t keep a clean sheet which puts us immediately on the back foot.
I know Rob Holding is probably back but not even he can cover for Sideshow Bob. It’s the ‘Mustafi Principle’: one man can wreck a defence but one isn’t enough to save it.
Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No, It’s Super Rob!
Not even Saint Rob. He can only perform as part of the Holy Trinity. When Tierney and Bellerin return, then superpowers kick in.
Even Unai recognised that. “We can be a better competitive team with them,” he told the assembled hacks.
Emery was surprised by the reaction the trio received on Tuesday night. “It was amazing to see the people’s reaction to Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin,” he said.
Not really, say I. There’s some relief, anticipation that we might get a stronger defence out of it. OK, the belief is it will be a stronger defence but I’m hedging my bets a little here.
Once the best players are back, does that mean all eyes on the tactics? Even more so than now, are they to be held as the weakness?
We shall see. Certainly, if our form picks up – and I don’t just mean results, performances as well – there’s a strong case for Emery seeing out the third year of his contract. If we continue to lurch from week to week, good to bad through indifferent, then this summer’s ‘break clause’ must surely be enacted?
At least Unai will know who his captain is. Or not maintain a bizarre radio silence on it. Granit Xhaka won the ‘Poll of polls’ and is the squad’s fall guy. Sorry, choice.
Emery description of Xhaka made him the ‘Thinking Man’s Footballer’ but is acutely aware of how unpopular – there’s no other way to package it – the Swiss international is:
We want to change that opinion outside because that respect that he has inside the dressing room is very, very important. And also keep moving ahead, playing, improving, and with behaviour, and his commitment. Each match for him, for me, for everybody, is a very good opportunity to show our capacity.A Bowie moment with all these ch-ch-changes
Trust in Me…Just in Me
Having spoken about “living all the time under pressure, under criticism as coaches, as players, as a club,” Emery knows this is a divisive appointment. Not internally but between himself and Xhaka on the one side, the supporters on the other.
Not all of them; some welcomed Xhaka’s captaincy and there is an element of ‘as you were’ about it. He’s led the side in every game he’s played so far this season.
Unai trusts and believes in him because “he is a good man, a good professional and a good player.” Emphasising that he knows his neck is in the noose as much as Xhaka’s, Emery went on:
His challenge and our challenge is to change that opinion and above all, show personality and improve in each match and give us his help every time. The first match is on Monday at Manchester United.Unai enters the Crystal Maze
Emery didn’t hide his preference but let the squad choose. If Xhaka hadn’t been #1, well, let’s just say that would have been awkward.
He was, so that’s it. Aubameyang, Bellerin, Lacazette and Ozil complete the leadership group so I wonder what happened to the Englishman Unai was so keen on having as part of that clique? Hector, the Catalan Cockney geezer, will have to fulfil that role.
As an aside, there’s a pleasant distraction in this morning’s Guardian. In an extract from “A Game Of Two Halves: Famous Football Fans Meet Their Heroes” by Amy, ‘Eck meets Romesh Ranganathan. Or is it the other way round? In any case, as usual, there are some interesting snippets about life as a footballer from Bellerin and some food for thought.