It’s Crystal Palace at Selhurst Part this evening, a game that’s only really notable for the fact that home fans will be back in the stands. They’re safe from relegation, our chances of a European place are really slim, so the return of supporters and the chance for them to say goodbye to Roy Hodgson are what gives this one a bit of interest.
Hodgson is stepping down after four years in charge there, and while it’s probably time for something new, there’s still time to show appreciation for someone who always seemed like one of the nicest men in the game. He’s 73 now, how he has the energy to do the job of a Premier League manager is remarkable, but this is his life. From Halmstad to Inter Milan, Udinese to Liverpool, he’s been around the block so many times at club level, as well as managing England, Switzerland, UAE and Finland on the international stage.
Mikel Arteta described him as a legend yesterday, and an inspiration to young coaches, and now it’s time for Hodgson to put his feet up for a bit. Incredibly, he didn’t announce his complete retirement yesterday, nor did he rule out a return to some kind of football role in the future, but a well earned rest is on the cards this summer.
Much as I hate to be the party pooper, I still hope we beat them this evening. Not because it makes any significant difference to the perception of our season, but at no point during this interminable campaign have we won more than three Premier League games in a row, and victory tonight would make it four successive wins. A small thing, but I’d like it, and if we can finish out the season with five in a row, all the better.
As for this evening’s team, I don’t know what the manager will do. Is it a chance to put some players in the so-called ‘shop window’ as we look to move them on this summer? I’m not sure that’s really how it works. It’s not as if a stellar performance now is going to make everyone sit up and take notice. They’ll think: ‘Well, there’s a bloke who has been rubbish all season just doing it when the pressure is off.’
Will it be a team with a nod towards next season using players who are definitely gonna be here, with a smattering of those who we’re not entirely sure about? That seems more likely. I don’t think we’re going to see an immediate influx of youngsters like Flo Balogun or Miguel Azeez. I could be wrong, and I’d like to see them get some minutes, but their time will come and it’s not massively important one way or the other if they don’t feature in the next two games. What’s important is the part they play in our future, not the slops of this season.
Speaking of the future, Arteta was asked about William Saliba and from some snipped quotes on social media I saw some angst, but I don’t think there’s much wrong with what he said when you read them in their entirety. He spoke about how loan manager Ben Knapper has been in constant contact with the player and providing reports etc, and said of his role next season:
When we finish the season, we will sit down and discuss the roles of every member of the squad and how they can fulfil that role and he’s our player so he’ll be back here for sure.
After that, we will make a decision based on the agreement of the role that each player is going to have in the squad.
To me that makes sense, and there’s something encouraging – albeit in a small way – that such a process about the squad and its make-up next season is being undertaken. If one of the criticisms of this current group is that it was put together without a great deal of strategy, or at best a somewhat flawed one, an internal review of how we create a right, competitive squad for a smaller season next time around is the right thing to do.
David Luiz is going, Arteta was gracious in his words towards the Brazilian, and there’s a gap to be filled. If you’re serious about building for the future, a highly-rated 20 year old centre-half who ticks so many of the boxes you need for a modern defender – in terms of how he plays and his physicality – has got to be one of the building blocks. Not least because of the substantial investment we made in him.
We’re now at that point in the year when talk turns to transfers and squad building, and nobody is willing/able to say anything of substance. When a manager says all the players who have contracts are likely to be here next season, it doesn’t mean they’re all going to stay or that he wants to keep them all. When players like Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard talk about their own futures, they do so in guarded terms.
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
“I am happy here. I have a contract.”
“You never know what can happen in football.”
It’ll all come out in the wash, and this summer we’re going be washing the absolute bollocks out of this squad. With Euros, U21 Euros, Copa America, and Olympics to deal with, plus the lingering effects of the pandemic, there’s a lot to do and plenty to contend with while we do it. All that to come at the same blog time, on the same blog channel, throughout the summer.
Catch you later for the game.