Thursday, January 20, 2022

Wenger: My Chilean is not Falstaffian + Europa League time madness

Over the course of the summer people have probably called Alexis Sanchez many things. There are some fans disgruntled at his desire to leave and I bet they called him names, like Alexis Gonechez, or Twatlexis Spamchez, or something equally creative.

But I bet none of them ever called him fat. That most classic of football insults. Even if you’re playing against a bloke who is rail thin, like an anorexic Peter Crouch, chances are someone will have a go at him during the game. ‘Shut up you fat prick’, they’ll say because there’s nothing a footballer at any level hates more than being called fat.

Some of them are able to compartmentalise it better than others. The Charlie Adams and Grant Holts of this world don’t like it but it doesn’t stop them from gorging themselves and growing large on Mr Kipling French Fancies, gelatinous pies and the like, and they continue to Pavarotti their way around a football pitch.

The evidence of their corpulence is obvious though, whereas it’s very difficult to understand why anyone would call Alexis Sanchez fat. At every possible opportunity he’s got his shirt off, displaying his rippling torso, his six pack, his glistening abs, engorged … well, you get the idea. He’s not fat, but his former U20 Chile coach called him that the other week when Chile were doing very badly in their World Cup qualifiers.

It’s patently not the case, yet Arsene Wenger appears to have been asked about it following the 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday, and as you’d expect the manager has dismissed it as nonsense, saying:

He is not fat. His fat percentage is under ten, so that’s not fat, but you know how it is when you don’t win, people find every problem for you. He was not completely physically ready to start three games in a week and certainly for Chile he was not completely ready as well.

It’s good that we’ve got that clarified, otherwise people might have thought a not fat man was fat. It will be interesting to see how Wenger manages his situation though. From what he’s saying he needs him to have a bit more training, a few more match minutes under his belt, before he’ll put him back into the starting XI, so I wonder if he’s got Thursday in mind for that.

Under normal circumstances, with everybody fit and sharp, a Europa League game three days before a trip to Stamford Bridge is one in which the manager would try and rest key players if possible. Yet giving Alexis an hour, perhaps, against Cologne is what he needs to get up to speed and back to something approaching his best. I thought he looked sharp and lively when he came on against Bournemouth, so he doesn’t seem to be too far away, but obviously the manager sees him on the training ground better and has more information on his fitness than I do.

Certainly the week ahead will give the manager plenty to think about. Despite it just being another match on a different day, there’s something different about Europa League versus Champions League, especially when you’ve been so used to the latter for so many years.

Firstly, there’s getting over the weird psychological thing of playing Thursday and then Sunday. It somehow feels shorter than Wednesday – Saturday, even though it’s exactly the same. Of course there were Champions League games on Tuesdays too, so that’s one thing, but it’s about being used to one format and then having to deal with another, and this time thing which maybe isn’t a thing but feels like one all the same.

We also have to do that and worry about a Premier League game next weekend which is really going to require something big from this group of players. If we as fans are concerned about an away game at one of the big sides, you can be sure they’re aware of the record too. There are countless examples of psychological barriers in sport, and right now this feels like one for Arsenal.

We know we can beat Chelsea, as the FA Cup final demonstrated (Community Shield too, but there’s no chance of a penalty shoot-out if it ends 1-1 on Sunday), but we also know our record away from home against the top team is very poor. The last time we won at Stamford Bridge was 2011, that glorious day when Andre Santos cracked one home, Theo Walcott did his Oooops I fell over trick, and John Terry slipped landing face first in the dirt, eating mud-pie as some bloke went through on goal to score.

It is still so early in the season, but this feels like a defining week in some ways. Firstly how we approach these new European adventures, and secondly can we get over what happened at Anfield and produce away from home against a team who have enjoyed too much success over us at their place for too long? We will see.

Ok, that’s about that for this morning. James is back from his honeymooning and we’ll have an Arsecast Extra for you later this morning. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, please send us to both on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog and we’ll get that up for you before lunchtime all going well.

Until then.

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