After a couple of weeks without any real Arsenal news, prepare yourself for an onslaught today as Arsene Wenger meets the press this morning ahead of Sunday’s Premier League encounter with Stoke.
Having been quite frank and open with beIN Sports during the Interlull, one can only hope he’s similarly inclined today, although much depends on the questions he’s asked. I fully expect him to be pressed for his opinion on the Facebook brouhaha, why it’s so bloody cold for this time of the year, and what his favourite track on Now That’s What I Call Music 99 is (anything but Maroon 5), and then maybe some football.
We should, at least, get a squad report. Who is fit and who is not. How fit is Alexandre Lacazette? The striker returned from his surgery-related absence this week and must surely need some minutes on Sunday if we’re going to play him against CSKA Moscow next week.
You have to assume that he will be our main striker in Europe, despite Danny Welbeck’s two goal salvo against AC Milan, and it will be interesting to see how he gets on when he gets back. How much of what was going on with his knee contributed to the run in which he scored just once in thirteen games? We had issues with giving him any consistent service too, so that’s something we need to address also.
How fit is Aaron Ramsey? The midfielder didn’t play during the Interlull and was supposed to undergo a small procedure, we still don’t know exactly for what. He was very much being nursed through the last few weeks though, Wenger ensuring he was fit for Europe by sacrificing him at home, so I’m curious to know if that’s still the case.
How far are we going to prioritise the Europa League now that the Premier League campaign means so little? Obviously, Europe is the only thing that can help us achieve anything this season, but that would perhaps be more easily accomplished if we had some momentum behind us.
A team playing with confidence will, generally, find it easier to achieve good results than one which is trying to respond to a poor performance or a bad result. So, finding the balance between keeping key players fresh for the games that really matter and ensuring we’re not under-strength and under-par for Premier League matches is the manager’s big challenge between now and May (or whenever the Europa League campaign ends).
He has to know that his future rests so much on whether or not we win it. If we do, he can point to a European trophy and entry into next season’s Champions League as tangible success. He won’t be wrong about that either, and it will make it very difficult for change to take place this summer. Stan’s not gonna call time on a man he likes if he delivers just the third continental success in the club’s history as well as that sweet, sweet Champions League money.
My dream scenario of him bowing out on a high after lifting a trophy in Lyon is, sadly, just that. From everything he’s said during this Interlull, he doesn’t see it the same way. It’s not in his thinking to call it quits at what we seem to be the perfect moment, but it must surely be entirely dependent on that achievement.
If we don’t win it and end up finishing 30+ points behind the title winners and so far behind the top four (at the moment the gap is 13 points), then that’s a massive under-performance and one which would, at any other club, cost the manager his job. I know Arsenal is not a normal club, that the circumstances are practically unique given Arsene Wenger’s lengthy tenure, but if that situation develops then we should do what any other club would and say ‘Thank you, but it’s time to go’.
If the Interlull has been so tedious, we’re right back into it now though, with that narrative hanging over almost every game and every performance, and it makes it interesting to say the least. It would be a feat of Houdini-esque proportions if he were to pull off another late season escapology act, but you wouldn’t put it past him either.
Anyway, we’ll have all the early team news and everything else (except for Maroon 5) over on Arseblog News throughout the morning. I’m looking forward to having actual things to think about and write about too.
For our Patreon subscribers, we’ll have an excellent long-read from Tim Stillman later today, looking back at the games which caused Arsene Wenger to modify or change his tactics and approach. If you’re subscribed, you’ll get an email notification when that’s available, if you’re not you can sign up at patreon.com/arseblog for just €5 a month (+ VAT in the EU) to get access to that and everything else we’ve posted there.
For now, I’ll leave it there as I battle with technological issues that are very much a first world problem, and I’ll be back tomorrow with an Arsecast.