It’s Premier League action tonight as we travel to St Mary’s to play Southampton. The last time we won there in the league was way back in 2003, but to be fair that includes a large chunk of six or seven years when the Saints weren’t in the top flight.
The team news is that Laurent Koscielny is a doubt, while worries over Granit Xhaka were eased. However, both players were due to have fitness tests yesterday. If the Frenchman is out it certainly gives Arsene Wenger something to think about in terms of how he sets up his team.
Will he stick with three at the back? And if he does, who will play Koscielny’s role as the man in the middle? Shkodran Mustafi was in full training this week so he’s a possibility if he’s considered fit enough, while the manager’s faith in Gabriel will be tested if he’s not.
Ahead of that it’s hard to know what he’s going to do. It’s a hectic two weeks now. With a game tonight, then Saturday, then Tuesday, then Sunday as the season draws to a close, so I suspect we’ll see some measure of rotation and necessary changes during this period. It’s about trying to find the right balance and ensure that the little bit of momentum we’ve built isn’t too damaged.
Southampton have just held Liverpool but their form has been patchy, to say the least. They do tend to give us a difficult time at their place though, and two tough away games in four days is going to really test us. The win over United was nice, but there’s still plenty to do to convince people we’re anywhere close to where we should be.
Let’s see what we can come up with tonight.
At his press conference yesterday Arsene Wenger was asked about the potential of a Director of Football and to say his mood changed when this subject was brought up really does not quite do it justice. It had all been relatively amiable, but when it was put to him the club were planning on making such an appointment, he visibly bristled.
You can read a transcript of how it went down, and such was the vehemence with which he shot down the line of questioning, it prompted me into writing a second blog yesterday. For some the issue might be simple, that it’s just Wenger flexing his muscles against possible boardroom interference and so on, but it really feels like it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I had questions swirling about in my mind, and you can read what I wrote right here. As I said last week there are definitely communication issues between the manager and the board right now, and this feels very much like Wenger taking an opportunity to make a statement in public. To be fair it’s not as if he got on a soapbox and made a statement, he was asked specifically about it, but I don’t think he could have made his contempt for the idea any more clear.
Pretending not to know what a Director of Football does is ludicrous coming from a man who knows the game inside out and back to front. He knows fine well, and he’s actually talked about how it can work in English football before. He’s even operated at Arsenal with David Dein more or less filling that role, although Dein, as vice-chairman at the time and a close friend, had both a measure of authority and trust, something it’s obvious is missing from the set-up we have at the moment.
What he seems to be railing against is the idea that the club would appoint a person who has the final say over player recruitment, and a system in which he as manager has to work with the players the club chooses. Expanding on his earlier comments, he said:
Some coaches are only interested in managing the team and they are happy with it. I am not like that, and I cannot change myself now. I am who I am. That is it.
It is difficult to imagine that somebody signs a player that the manager does not know. It never happened to me. For me, it is like if you write an article in the newspaper and somebody else signs for you.
As I wrote in that second piece yesterday, I remain thoroughly unconvinced by reports this is the brainchild of Ivan Gazidis. I think we all know that the club has to start preparing for a future without Wenger, whether that’s this summer or not, but how can we believe anything that comes from a man who will not speak in public and whose preferred method of communication is leaking information to friendly journalists?
The only person at executive level we’ve heard anything from is Dick Law (!!!) – who told a Brazilian newspaper this week that Wenger has ‘strong support’ from the board – and that tells you a lot about the way things are at this football club right now.
At least the one thing we can say is that Wenger is there front and centre, before and after games, and even if he’s unwilling to answer certain questions he’s not shirking that responsibility.
Where is our Chief Executive? What is he doing? Why does this boardroom inertia continue without anyone doing anything about it? Why do they think that silence is the right option? When are they going to show some leadership or decisiveness? And why should we trust anything they do or say when it feels as if they’re behaving in a way which does nothing but cover their own arses?
It is a horrible mess, and nobody is coming out of this smelling of roses. Nobody. There’s a schism at the top of this club, and whichever way it plays out in the next few weeks, it’s almost impossible to say that we are going to end up the better for it. We could end up in June scrambling around looking for a manager – because if you think there are contingency plans for Wenger’s departure, you’re off your box – or left without a Chief Executive (although quite what he does at this point is anybody’s guess anyway).
Arsenal used to take pride in being a well run club. Is that the case any more? You’d be very hard pressed to make that case.
As ever we’ll have a live blog for you later on, so if you’re stuck in work or can’t see the game for some other reason, we’ll keep you up to date with live text commentary. Check back later for a post with all the info, or bookmark our default live blog page.