We’ve got a day to rest today before we face QPR in the Premier League tomorrow night, and with Man City losing to Liverpool the other day, there are whispers of targetting second place. In fact, David Ospina has urged his teammates to have a go, saying:
We know we are close to them now, but we need to concentrate on ourselves and not think about them. We will keep doing our job, picking up points and then see what happens.
A decent plan really. In the league we’ve taken 18 from the last 21 points and with Liverpool in particular on a bit of a charge, we’re going to have to keep it up. That we play the Mugsmashers in a few weeks time is something we’ll have to deal with then, but in the meantime games against QPR, West Ham and Newcastle give us a good chance to keep the momentum going and, if they slip up in the meantime, put a bit more pressure on.
With a big, big game next week in the FA Cup, I wonder if there might be some changes for tomorrow night. While there was a lot of focus on Per Mertesacker losing his place to Gabriel, there’s also a need to ensure that Laurent Koscielny doesn’t re-damage those Achilles tendons, and at some point the manager needs to look at the Brazilian and the German together.
It wouldn’t surprise me if that was something we saw at Loftus Road. There are signs that Koscielny isn’t quite at 100% either, his performance against Everton was not him at his best, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s given the same kind of break Mertesacker was against Everton.
Then there’s Alexis. I get the sense people are a bit worried about him because he hasn’t scored in 7 games and isn’t looking his usual, effervescent self, but that’s not a shock after the level of effort he put in during the first part of the season. I think I’d rest him tomorrow. It’s not as if we don’t have options for that position, and I’d rather see him absolutely chomping at the bit at Old Trafford.
Danny Welbeck can play on the left hand side, as can Ozil or Oxlade-Chamberlain. And then there’s Theo Walcott. After making his comeback and scoring 3 times in 4 games he’s been dropped to the bench, with the manager clearly having reservations about his contribution in other areas of the pitch. That can be the only reason he was left on the bench away from home at Sp*rs for Welbeck (just back from an injury lay-off).
He wasn’t picked away to Palace, he got on against Leicester and Boro at home, but sat out the win over Everton completely. He spent most of the second half warming up, doing stretches and looking forlornly at the bench as others were given the nod.
We did have a bit of a chat about him on yesterday’s Arsecast Extra (which you can listen to here), but his situation right now is a curious one. In the summer he’ll have just 12 months left on his contract, usually the point where if no agreement is reached the club has to make a decision about what to do.
Last time this happened, Walcott was in a rather unique position in that big-names like Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri – in the same contractual position – had been sold and, after also losing Cesc Fabregas, the club just could not afford to let him go. Not simply for footballing reasons, but because of what it would have said about the ability to hang on to players of real importance to the team.
It meant that Theo and his people had a very, very strong bargaining position, and were able to use the fear the club felt to play it out until beyond January, at which point he signed a deal which made him the highest paid player at the club. None of which, by the way, is to be critical of that brinksmanship, because that’s the way it works in football and they took full advantage of the situation.
Now though, it’s quite different. Theo, while still a very marketable commodity, and a player who provides a goal threat, doesn’t have anywhere near the same importance to the first team or the club’s image as a whole. Quite what his intentions are regarding a new deal are anyone’s guess, but my suspicion is the club won’t be quite as willing to accommodate another drawn-out saga as they were back throughout the summer of 2012 and into January 2013 when the deal was completed.
Things have changed considerably, and if there’s an obviously reluctance on the manager’s part to use a player you have to wonder if that would be reflected in our decision when it comes to a new deal. I think we probably want him to stay, but on terms dictated much more by us than him and his advisers. It’s definitely a situation to keep an eye on, and if we get to the summer without agreement, we might see him move on.
Anyway, having said all that, and with half an eye on the Old Trafford trip, if he got the nod tomorrow so others can get the rest required for that, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. And I’d be very interested to see what kind of response we get from him. Maybe that’s part of Arsene Wenger’s plan.
Right then, that’s about that bar one final nod back to Sunday’s game against Everton. In yesterday’s blog you might have seen that certain things ended up on the NBC Broadcast. Well, the chaps at Men in Blazers put together a compilation of the bits without swearing in them – you can hear me and @jonnycave78 express some frustration with the match official amongst other things.
And should any broadcasters out there wish to hire Jonny and I, we can do this all day, at any referee, opposition player/manager, match, sport, or even random passers-by.