Huge, massive sporting drama yesterday. It’s all anyone could talk about. Incredible scenes, high stakes, in the end West Ham dropping two points at Burnley sets us up nicely for Wednesday night’s big game.
What? Did I miss something?
Once again it means we may have an opportunity to get into the top four. It will depend on Manchester United’s trip to Brentford, but there’s some suggestion that might not go ahead on Tuesday night due to a number of Covid cases in the United squad. Already, Sp*rs have had two games postponed because of the virus, while in the Championship Sheffield United’s game against QPR has been postponed after Covid cases meant they had ‘insufficient numbers to fulfil the fixture.’
The thing is though, nobody seems to know what is deemed sufficient or insufficient. Mikel Arteta was asked about it at his press conference the other day, in light of our opening game of the season going ahead despite Covid cases in the squad. It was put to him that it would be a good thing if the Premier League actually made it clear what the threshold for positive cases was. His pithy reply:
That would be helpful, yes.
It seems to be arbitrary at the moment, which can’t be allowed to continue, surely? Obviously the primary concern should be the health of those involved, but clubs need to know that the rules – such as they are – are being applied to everyone in the same way. Anyway, let’s see what happens, and hopefully we can avoid any kind of outbreak within the squad.
The other big issue this week, ahead of the West Ham, is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and whether or not he’ll be involved. He was left out of the team at the weekend due to a ‘disciplinary breach’, and the manager wasn’t forthcoming on whether one game was going to be the end of it. In fact, on Sky beforehand, he said something like ‘It starts today’, which suggests it’s potentially longer.
There was a lot of discussion about making it public, but I think it’s understandable. For me, it’s not necessarily Arteta wanting to come across as a disciplinarian as much as getting out in front of the situation before it becomes public. In the world we live in right now, with social media and everything else, leaks and rumours would emerge, so if the manager says he was injured or ‘unwell’, he then looks like he’s telling fibs.
Just as an example, I’ve had a couple of messages from people who gave me a version of events which more or less tallies with the story on The Athletic which said he’d been given permission to travel but arrived back late. I’m certainly not an ITK or particularly close to any kind of inner-circle, so if I’m getting that information, you can be quite sure other people are. If the story was he was ‘unwell’, it would be made a lie of pretty quickly, so the best way to deal with it is be first with that information.
Not to mention the fact that before Arteta went public and there was speculation as to why he wasn’t going to be involved against Southampton, he was in an Instagram video with a tattoo artist, supposedly in Barcelona. Of course, there could be a big difference between when that clip was filmed and when it was uploaded, but nobody’s going to buy a story about his absence being due to illness with that doing the rounds.
Bottom line for me: if the club have been accommodating enough to give him permission to travel – particularly at a time when it would be far more sensible not to do that – he has a duty to return on time. He’s captain of Arsenal, and with that honour comes greater responsibility. I am of the opinion that there is a little too much stock put in the captaincy, but even with that, you can’t ignore that it still means something to be the de facto leader/figurehead of a football club like this. As such, he was punished, and it’s not the first time that his timekeeping has been under scrutiny.
His omission from the North London derby last season didn’t just happen because it was an isolated incident, and this latest transgression is a headache nobody needs. We already had a growing problem with his on-pitch performances and lack of goals, and this only exacerbates that. There’s also the question of the captaincy itself. I’ve seen many people suggest he should be stripped of the armband, and I can see that point of view. I just don’t know how it happens in a way which turns out positively for the team or the player.
If it happens, it will be because of his own actions, and he has to take responsibility for those, but let’s not pretend it’s just a question of ‘Ok, let’s make someone else captain’ and things will just truck on as normal. It feels like the kind of decision which has consequences we’ll have to reckon with. Some will be short on sympathy, and I get that completely. There’s a good reason why every transfer discussion around this team now focuses first and foremost on what striker we’re going to buy and when, but an issue like taking the captaincy from a player is a delicate one. I’m curious to see how it’s handled, and we should find out more this week.
There is some precedent too. Back in November 2008 the famously non-confrontational (with his players at least) Arsene Wenger, stripped William Gallas of the armband after some public comments and dressing room in-fighting. He continued to play for another season and a half, before going to Sp*rs, so this just shows you that under no circumstances can Gallas be used as good example for anything, from his arrival to his departure and everything inbetween (apart from his occasional tendency to score goals with his mickey).
Right, let’s leave it there for now. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra for you this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
Podcast should be out around lunchtime, so until then, take it easy.