Arsenal Gentleman’s Weekly Review

Arsenal Gentleman’s Weekly Review

Good day to you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this week it’s that if one’s team is losing two-nil, and the team in question is indeed Woolwich Arsenal, then it is best to wait until the referee has puffed on the silver snail before one does something slightly rash such as picking a gardener at random and running him through with a poker. Because that would be rather awkward, not to mention extravagantly messy, and would mean calling in yet another favour from the friendly constabulary. Thank heavens for being part of the Illuminati at times of accidental murders.

For it was so Saturday last when we paid a visit to Proper Club Everton. Like an Australian toilet with a poisonous spider within, Goodison Park is A Very Difficult Place To Go. Furthermore, like a locked brothel (more of which later) it is a Very Difficult Place To Go And Get A Result. And so it was. In the grand English tradition of doing things the hard way, we generously allowed the home team to amass a two goal advantage before stubbing out our Capstans and actually playing some foot-ball.

Our defending is somewhat French at the moment; we seem to invite foreign hordes to attack us. Indeed, for their second goal, only Mr. Flame and Mr. Matthews were the only defenders in our box. Mr. Chapman would have had the other defenders, World Cup winners or not, locked up in a cellar for a fortnight to think about what they had done.

The refereeing was as poor as could be. Kanvar ‘The Young Prince’ Kumar, who has excelled since his arrival for the South Coast Home for Wayward Deserters, was unfairly booked, and Everton’s own tame Bigfoot Steven Naismith was clearly offside for their second.

At oranges the still-acclimatising Whizzbang Saunders was replaced with The Brigadier – and it proved quite the masterstroke. Tolerate him or outright hate him you can’t deny that Goring-Hildred is quite the handful. What you want from a centre forward is to be a bloody nuisance, and that is what he was. The complexion of the match changed in our favour and finally we looked like we were in a match-up and not an exhibition.

Mr. Cousins, aside from Master Oxlade-Chamberlain, was as busy as a one-legged man in an arse kicking contest and indeed swung in a lovely Gentleman’s Favour for Senegal’s favourite son, Abdoulaye Ramsara to slot home for two-one. And thus it was written; Goring-Hildred with the Noggin-Bobbler and then Goring-Hildred with the broken leg, which keeps him out until the feast of St. Brigid of Ireland on February 1st.

To The Emirates then, for the arrival of the uncivilised hordes of the The Shitcats of the Ottoman Empire, who had been briefed to play like the Leeds sides of the 1970s. The referee had been briefed to referee like an amphetamine can-can dancer and dished out no less than 43 yellow cards, including one to me, high up in the North Bank, one to a man enjoying a Chinese meal in downtown Shanghai and a straight red to the entire City of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mr. Saunders paid back his fee with the simplest of strikes and took great delight in doing so. What I like most about Whizzbang – and I like a lot of things about him – is that he enjoys a tussle with a hulking centre-half as much as he enjoys displaying almost supernatural skill on the ball. He is sure to become a crowd favourite. Another highlight was the splendidly demented Matthew Matthews, who at one point had to be calmed down by Matthew Flame. Light up a cigar and think about that for a few minutes.

Yet, we only needed ten men and we are back once again like the proverbial Renegade Master, with our ill behaviour, and were instantly brought back down to earth with our group of Bloody Borussia Dartford, some more uncivilised Ottomans and Anderlecht Wednesday. We never get an easy group, unlike FC Chelsea 2003, who always do. Why? Well, that is one of life’s imponderables …

Finally, to Tottenham, who are through again to the Euro Vase. Good to see Madame Pochettino, dear mother and, ahem, ‘brass’, an enterprising Madam if ever there was one, whose ‘Shop de Knocking’ is now offering a number of Spurs ‘specials’ to her paying gentleman callers.

All the best

The Gent

Giroud out, Alexis in. Chequebook closed?

Giroud out, Alexis in. Chequebook closed?

When Olivier Giroud charged down Sylvain Distin’s clearance on Saturday evening and collapsed to the ground in a crumpled heap adjacent to the away end, I barely flickered in recognition. Partly because I’d yet to psychically realign with planet earth after the Frenchman’s equaliser. But also because it’s easy to be blasé about the sight of Olivier Giroud’s anguished features and flicky hands.

Despite the regularity with which that brow furrows and that wrist threatens to take off into orbit, Giroud has proved to be quite the physical specimen. Seemingly carved from titanium, the Gunners frontman is able to be able to withstand game after game of tremendous physical punishment without injury. Distin’s clearance proved to be one assault on his limbs too many and when he hobbled away from Goodison, Arsenal’s season changed.

But have Arsene Wenger’s plans in the market changed? It’s the question tripping from a million typewriters. The clamour for Arsenal to buy another striker in light of Giroud’s absence has long since surpassed feverish. Personally, I have my doubts that we will see another forward arrive this summer. The manager’s decision to start Alexis upfront against Besiktas and leave Sanogo on the bench nourished the seeds of doubt in my mind.

Arsenal have been somewhat accustomed to playing with a target man since signing Olivier Giroud and even before that, we saw something similar with Emmanuel Adebayor. Wenger’s solution when Adebayor left was to turn Robin van Persie into a striking spearhead, which wasn’t without success. The Dutchman described his role as a “kind of 9 and a half.” I have always felt that Wenger has rather reluctantly fielded a muscular target man as his striker until he could find the sort of fluidity in his frontline that was so evident in his best teams.

‘The Invincibles’ never played with a target man. They didn’t need to because their movement was so good. Wenger abandoned his pursuit of Gonzalo Higuain last summer when he, mistakenly as it turned out, believed Luis Suarez was available. That wasn’t just because Suarez is a better striker than Higuain, but because the Uruguayan fits Wenger’s idyllic vision of the complete centre forward. Someone that plays all across the line and can at once perch on the shoulder of the centre half and skin a hapless full back.

Basically, unless Wenger finds a very good striker that fits the profile of Giroud, I can’t see him paying money for a wiry forward when he has Alexis. My totally uninformed hunch is that Wenger’s plan has been to gradually turn Alexis into Arsenal’s central striker. I think the prospect of Alexis and Walcott, once fit, swapping the right wing and centre forward role persistently throughout a game, with the likes of Özil and Cazorla supplying ammunition, might just be how Wenger envisages his team’s evolution.

If Wenger spends big on a more kinetic striker, the system would still have to be tweaked and there would be an adaption period required. My gut feeling is that Wenger will simply expedite the plan to play Alexis through the middle and accept the growing pains he already needs to tackle. If the manager can find someone he likes for a reasonable price he may be inclined to add, but such an occurrence seems fanciful to me at this stage of the window- especially with selling clubs acutely aware of our situation. Wenger clearly hasn’t found one yet this summer and his pursuit of the likes of Higuain, Suarez, Draxler and Alexis in the last year suggests he’s open to adding the right player to his forward line.

I’m certain the plan would have been to blend Alexis into the number 9 or “kind of 9 and a half” role incrementally. People often forget that the first 6 or 7 games of Thierry Henry’s Arsenal career were served on the left wing. Wenger introduced him to the centre forward role slowly. Alexis likes to play all across the front line, as Tim Vickery outlines here and I think that fits Wenger’s vision for his ideal forward line a little more than a traditional target man. Suarez and Aguero are two of the best centre forwards in the world and neither is asked to hold the ball up or play with his back to goal.

If I am correct in my assumption and the transition works, Olivier Giroud might have unwittingly seen his Arsenal future this weekend. A good, solid, Plan B when things aren’t quite working out. Of course it will take time for the team to get used to Alexis and his movement and vice versa. Too often against Everton and in the first half against Besiktas, the Chilean drifted deep for the ball, simultaneously leaving the penalty box rather barren and crowding an area already well attended to by the likes of Wilshere, Chamberlain, Özil and Cazorla.

In that respect, there was a sort of half irony to him taking the ball off of Wilshere’s toes when he opened his Arsenal account against Besiktas. On this occasion, Jack was very much in Sanchez’s territory and the former Barca man pulled rank to give the Gunners a precious goal. In the first half, Alexis had the least touches of any Arsenal man, receiving possession seven times less than Arsenal’s second most ball shy player. Besiktas’ centre backs were not pressured in possession and allowed to pick their passes under little duress.

In the second half, the Chilean played much closer to Besiktas’ centre halves and, buoyed by his goal, his performance improved markedly. He occupied the opposition defence, showing a mixture of upper body strength and nimble feet. Walcott’s return could free Alexis to drop deep to collect possession, with Theo potentially moving in behind him to give opposing centre halves something to think about whilst his fellow speedster is taken with wanderlust.

Since the signing of Giroud, Walcott’s brief has been very much not to involve himself in Arsenal’s build up play but to concentrate on being both an outlet and a finisher. With Alexis playing across the frontline and dropping deep into pockets of space, Walcott also has the chance to take up the central positions he craves. It will take time for this understanding to brew of course. This average position map from the Crystal Palace game shows you some of the consequences of unfamiliarity in attacking areas.

Giroud’s injury probably means that the manager will have to hurry his attacking vision (or at least my uninformed estimation of it) along. We saw something similar when Özil came into the team last season and for a while, Cazorla struggled to recalibrate into more of a traditional midfield role. Now they swap positions to much greater effect, as demonstrated when the pair dovetailed so nicely to tee up Aaron Ramsey at Goodison.

Whilst the clamour for a striker is understandable, Arsenal were the 7th most prolific team at creating goalscoring chances last season. That’s partly because of the “rope a dope” defensive style we deployed, but it also suggests our attack can be prone to predictability. Arsenal have added Cazorla, Özil and Alexis in consecutive summers. I think once the bond between those players, along with more direct threats such as Ramsey and Walcott, begins to strengthen, we’ll see something closer to Arsene Wenger’s ultimate vision for his forward line. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

Tactics column: possession football

Tactics column: possession football

After Arsenal drew 2-2 with Everton, it was interesting that Arsene Wenger praised the team’s belief and resilience. He did the same thing after Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 2-1. Not in the sense that it was unexpected but praising Arsenal’s mental resolve has now become the manager’s stock response, whereas once he would cite possession statistics or shot output as a sign of Arsenal’s dominance. He wants to win – and win quickly – therefore winning ugly, though Arsenal drew in this case, has to become part of Arsenal’s armoury.

Wenger’s desire to make a stylistic impression on the match, though, won’t change therefore the encounter with Everton, a similarly ball-oriented side, was an eagerly anticipated one. What the match showed, though, is that possession football is diverse – as diverse as the game itself (as everybody passes the ball) – and that there is no such thing as a single, homogenous style of build-up play.

Arsenal’s style is mainly position-based, and as such, it’s easy to identify the typical passing lanes. The centre-backs pick up the ball and look to feed one of the midfielders, in this case Mathieu Flamini (though Mikel Arteta is far more adept), who in turn has the option of passing it to a myriad of attacking players who have committed forward in front of him. With this approach, Arsenal look to have as much of the play in the opponents half as possible and it’s up to the players, based on a know-how accumulated over time and matches, to find solutions.

Everton on the other hand, have the majority of their play at the back and are happy for it. Instead, they look to work space patiently by stretching the pitch as wide as possible in the hope that eventually, this will create a bit of space for one of the midfielders in the 4-3-3 to find a killer pass. Arsene Wenger was aware of that threat therefore he asked his attacking players to mark the Everton midfielders so that they couldn’t receive the ball. What Everton did well, however, making it hard for Arsenal to win the ball back was to spread the centre-backs across the pitch then drop a midfielder in the gap and push the full-backs forward. This is the Pep Guardiola dictum who, early on in his Barcelona reign, realised that teams would press them high up the pitch therefore by spreading the field; the opponents would have to cover more distance to close them down.

At times, Everton brought trouble upon themselves with this approach, with one chance falling to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain following a botched diagonal pass by Seamus Coleman. On the main, however, especially in the first-half, it allowed them to play on their own terms and with Arsenal not willing to commit to the full-press, it gave time for the centre-backs to pick out a pass to one of the three forwards who generally stayed up the pitch for the whole game. Leighton Baines explains Everton’s approach in an interview with the Guardian:

“The full-backs at Everton are more advanced now. If [the goalkeeper] Tim Howard has the ball, I’ll be encouraged to be higher up the pitch and that creates more space for the midfielders. We can then start our play, building up from the back.

“People will say there’s a risk involved, and there are times, as a defender, when I’m one side, Seamus [Coleman] is on the other, and I’m thinking: ‘I could do with being 15 to 20 yards further back here.’ But the idea is we stick to it, keep the ball and build. What the manager says is: ‘We’re going to get so good at what we do, we’re not going to compromise that, we’re going to stick to our principles and just get better because the top sides, the really top teams who have mastered this way, are the ones that gets success.’”

Pressed on who he means, Baines continues: “I’m reluctant to say Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but it is based round those principles. We’re trying to gain an advantage in what we do. It’s attacking football, and we just have to trust ourselves.”

Gifs: The subtle differences between the two build up plays from deep

Arsenal: http://i.gyazo.com/a097d7df084d56809e4a2a1a93f48b0a.gif

Everton: http://i.gyazo.com/dedb7b16d2b337eface47c35f7c14295.gif

Thankfully, Arsenal improved in the second-half, completing 257 passes to Everton’s 118. Tactically, it’s hard to underpin what exactly was the reason for the swing in dominance, though noticeably Aaron Ramsey played much higher to the striker, Olivier Giroud. Part of it can be psychological also, as having gone two goals down, Arsenal rallied and naturally Everton went back into their shell. The presence of Giroud as opposed to Alexis Sanchez helps, as he eats up space. It helps that much, though, that Giroud is a big man because it makes him easier to find and that any ball played up to him, he can hold and shield off any opponents. Indeed, over time the Arsenal players have warmed to him as although his finishing can be woeful, he’s represents an out-ball whether to cross the ball or bump passes off him.

Alexis Sanchez average position, no.17, tells a false story as he was often isolated

Alexis Sanchez average position, no.17, tells a false story as he was often isolated

As it happened, Arsenal scored because they did what they weren’t able to do in the first-half: cross the ball into the box. Indeed, frequently it seemed that they had to resist the urge to lump it forward without the presence of their Brobdingnagian striker. Ultimately, this is the main criticism of Alexis as the no.9. His lack of presence means that Arsenal have to be very good at moving the ball and working themselves into optimal positions to slip him in. That’s one of the reasons why Ozil started on the left. To be fair to Alexis, he didn’t do badly; he just lacked the support. The average positions diagram will show that he continually dropped deep for the ball – almost as a false nine – but that was far from the case. Instead, he was often isolated and having spent large periods of the first-half pressing, the Arsenal midfielders were unable to expend the extra energy to support him.

In the second-half, Aaron Ramsey was to play closer to the goal and he arrived at the right position to pull one back for Arsenal. Fittingly though, it was Giroud who rescued the point for Arsenal. Much maligned he still a very important part of the way Arsenal play.

Arsenal Gentleman’s Weekly Review

Arsenal Gentleman’s Weekly Review

Salutations, once more, my fine fellows. The butler is once again drawn toward some kind of strange glowing typewriter as he transcribes my fevered musings on the week’s dramas in the world of modern association foot-ball and more specifically that of Woolwich Arsenal. It is indeed a joy to recline here upon the chaise-longue, smoking jacket drawn tightly upon me, fez atop my noggin, a cocktail I like to call The Copping in one hand (2 parts gin, one part tincture of cannabis, one part laudanum and a dash of ‘Gentleman’s Bitters’, AKA, raw ether). It is quite the pick-me-up, as well as quite the throw-me-down, not to mention the send-me-spinning-up-to-the-rings-of-Saturn, so let us hope it does not ‘kick-in’, as the young people say, before the end of this article.

We turn first to the regrettable blitheringness of the summer transfer season. A quite loopy few weeks where the whole of foot-ball seems to go, if not quite the full Adebayor, then at least a little scrooched. It is a time of dreams. It is akin to advent, in reality much more enjoyable than the reality of Christ-mas itself, when inevitably screaming contremps occur, pistols are raised and then are the inevitable murders and maimings. Yes, transfer season conjures the possibility of hope once more. If we recall last close season for the poor wretches at the Middlesex end of the Seven Sisters Road, a flurry of transfer dealings lead to the arrival of quite the motley collection of buffoons, Messrs. Soldildo, Capoo-poo, Vlad Chubby-Cheeks and poor Mr. Lamela, none of whom seem to be actual foot-ballers.

Indeed, it was Mr. Bale’s desperation to leave White Hovel Lane that brought us the toothsome treat that is Mr. Orwell, now a World Cup winner. And this summer, the toothsome twat Mr. Suarez’s departure – a player with whom there is nothing wrong that a hundredweight of bricks falling on his head wouldn’t cure – to the Incredible Cheating Catalans that meant we were able to acquire Alex ‘Whizzbang’ Saunders, quite the purchase. We also saw a significant upgrade at the right-back position, with Matthew Matthews arriving, as well as OFFSPINNER.

As it stands at the arse-end of August, the team who lifted the Cup back in May looks quite different.

arsenal_facup

One of the main changes, apart from Flaps heading off to semi-retirement in Welsh Wales and Mr. Sailor driving his mobility vehicle to full retirement in the Stockport Bench Home for Greedy Buggers is the change in habiliments. The launch of the new jerseys was quite spectacular – Mr. Poomer’s Sporting Goods made quite an investment there.

Pre-season’s most delightful surprise was Mr. Sangley, who arrived at the Emirates psychopathically intent on causing mayhem against the mountebanks of Benfica. Like an amphetamine giraffe, Sangley bustled and mithered and bamboozled the Portuguese who were baffled by this vast marionette of a man. There is something of the Peter Crouch of him, and that is not an insult. Like Mr. Crouch, Mr. Sangley looks like the signals his brain are sending to his limbs are taking a good couple of seconds to reach their destination. And also there is a celebratory dance, although not of the excruciating Fritz-Lang’s-Metropolis-Android way, rather in the style of a young gentleman, after one claret too many, carousing in a jazz club. One thoroughly approves.

And so to Wembley, for a most pleasing thrashing of Europe’s most hated club, the destroyer of football, Manchester City, the Abu Dhabi Vulgarians. How Mr. Sagna must be ruing the day he took the devil’s shilling.

The less said about the visit of our South London rivals Crystal Palace the better. Suffice it to say that as Grandmother Gent used to say, a nod’s as good as a wink to a Lithuanian librarian with a daffodil in his pocket. We shall leave it there. And indeed the visit to the Ottoman Empire, in which Europe’s most feared enforcer, Mr. Ramsara, got his marching orders for his insufferable violence.

Lastly, a word on the young chaps. How wonderful if is to see young Ainsley Naitland-Miles and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill doing so delightfully well. I knew young Naitland-Miles’ mater, Daphne, from Cowes Yacht Club, and indeed Ormonde-Ottewill comes from a long line of Ormonde-Ottewills who went through Eton. His pater, Cedric, is a bloody good egg and I look forward to toasting the young lad’s progress when I see him at The Garrick next week.

Saturday brings an ominous visit to the best team in Liverpool, Everton. A proper club, unlike, well, we know who they are unlike.

Until next time. Yoicks, fine fellows, yoicks! To the impoverished north west!

Developing chemistry

Developing chemistry

It’s been clear from the opening two games that Arsenal, like most top teams, are going to have to feel their way into this season. Past post World Cup campaigns have been instructive in this respect. In 1998-99 for instance, Arsenal drew 4 of their opening 5 games after key players such as Bergkamp, Overmars, Petit, Vieira, Adams and, err, Nelson Vivas took part in international football’s biggest summer festival. All of those players were restored to the starting line up straight away that season (with the notable exception of new signing Vivas, of course).

Consequently, none produced their best season in an Arsenal shirt and that, along with the advice of new fitness coach Shad Forsythe, may have informed the decision to hold back on the reintroduction of Mertesacker, Özil and Podolski. Wenger said, rather tellingly earlier in the month, “You have the choice – you get them back very quickly and you lose them in October, or you give them a needed rest to build them up again.”

That said, I think it’s reasonably obvious that there has been an Özil shaped hole in the team in the first two matches as the Gunners have struggled to create. Part of this of course is down to a lack of sharpness in the players. Arsenal’s play relies a lot on synergy of movement and passing, an almost telepathic understanding of one another’s movements, as we saw demonstrated quite beautifully with Wilshere’s goal against Norwich and Rosicky’s versus Sunderland last season.

However, I don’t think there’s a huge cause to be alarmed by the rough edges just yet. Last season, along with several other recent campaigns, have showed that hitting your peak in September isn’t necessarily portentous of remaining in fine fettle come April. When Arsene Wenger warned Spurs last summer that buying a lot of new players can have ramifications on the balance of your team, it wasn’t just a cheap shot at our neighbours.

For instance, the understandable lack of understanding between Debuchy and Alexis on the right hand side has been quite stark. Earlier in the summer I suggested that it would take time for Bacary Sagna’s replacement to fully integrate and we can see that the team aren’t quite accustomed to Debuchy’s movements yet. A few passes on Arsenal’s right hand side went astray against Crystal Palace because Debuchy moved forwards at the exact point that the passer released the ball, causing it to trickle frustratingly out of play.

Besiktas’ best chance on Tuesday night came after the Frenchman abandoned his post to make a strong tackle close to the centre circle. As the ball broke loose, Wilshere and Debuchy left it to one another and the moment’s hesitation allowed Besiktas to mount a break on Debuchy’s side. These little misunderstandings are to be expected early in the season I think, especially when Bacary Sagna has been such a mainstay of the side for so long.

Arsenal have struggled to support their centre forward in the hard fought games with Palace and Besiktas. Whilst nobody would or could pretend that Sanogo or Giroud especially distinguished themselves in either game, it’s also not a huge coincidence that both faced a similar struggle. As Anam explained shortly after the Community Shield, Arsenal have compensated for Özil’s absence by playing Wilshere and Ramsey slightly closer together, which effectively sees them share the “number 10” role.

Largely for reasons of unfamiliarity, it’s resulted in a lack of support for Arsenal’s main striker. Alexis has shown positive intent, but he doesn’t yet have a working relationship with his teammates, which goes some way to explaining why we’ve been a little patchy going forward. I would expect Özil to be the first German thrust back into the starting line up against Everton this Sunday. Especially in light of Arteta’s injury. Given the fine job Chambers has done to this point, I would only expect Mertesacker to start if Koscielny’s dicky achilles is deemed too much of a risk.

I think Arsene Wenger will want as much familiarity in the middle of the pitch as possible. Özil oils the wheels for our runners and that will hopefully allow Alexis and Ramsey to provide more of a cavalry for Giroud to call upon. The French striker lost the ball more times than any other player on the pitch on Tuesday evening and completed just 52% of his passes. Rustiness partially explains this, as does a pitch that basically turned the ball egg shaped. But a lot of it was down to a lack of support too.

Often he struggled to get the ball under control under the close attention of 2 or 3 Besiktas defenders, with few passing options nearby. Even leaving those points aside, he had a bit of an off day too. It was a rather unvirtuous circle all in all. Hopefully Özil’s return will aid Ramsey and Alexis and in return, we might get more change out of Santi Cazorla, who has underwhelmed as much as Arsenal’s strikers, only to less vociferous criticism.

I think this is largely because nobody thinks we are crying out for a diminutive playmaker, but an upgrade in the centre forward position is at the foremost of the thoughts of many Arsenal fans. Sometimes, our preoccupation with the transfer market can lead us to hyperbolise existing deficiencies. We see much the same syndrome inform opinions of Mikel Arteta. Because a deep lying midfielder is at the top of most wanted lists, anyone we currently have there is viewed through a less forgiving prism.

That’s not to say a better centre forward and a newer, younger defensive midfielder wouldn’t be near the top of my shopping list too were the purse strings turned over to me. (Personally, I’m all for upgrading in any position if the right player becomes available, no matter how well you’re stocked in that position). But there’s a middle ground to be found I think. On the forward issue, we may have seen a glimpse into the manager’s thinking with his tinkering during the Palace fixture. Towards the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, with Arsenal struggling to open the Eagles defence, Wenger switched to more of a 4-4-2 shape.

Alexis played closer to Sanogo with Ramsey coming wide in a narrow midfield four. Arsenal played some of their best football last season with a squeezed quartet in the middle- most notably against Napoli. In reality, it became something of a 4-1-3-1-1 with Arteta sat behind Rosicky, Wilshere and Ramsey. Özil played ahead of them as an out and out number 10 behind Giroud. The presence of Alexis (and conceivably Walcott once he’s fit again) does give us the option of moving to more of a 4-4-2 shape in game if we’re finding an opponent difficult to break down.

I’ve the feeling that Wenger will upgrade in the central striker position as and when somebody that takes his fancy becomes available. (He wouldn’t have spent all of last summer courting Higuain and Suarez unless it was a thought he had entertained rather strongly). Rightly or wrongly, I just don’t think there’s anybody currently on the market that tickles his fancy. In the meantime, he may argue that his forward line is more flexible than it has been for a while, but he will hope the chemistry is swift to brew. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA