Could Arsene Wenger defy some Arsenal fans and sign a new deal? Can Jurgen Klopp take Liverpool to the next level? Plus, Man City’s shortcomings and a look ahead to England’s upcoming games and are all discussed in this week’s Monday Verdict.
Has Arsene lost everything?
There is no hiding any more; things have become really bad for Arsenal.
The Gunners have lost four out of five Premier League games for the first time in since April 1995, a record which they equaled in circumstances very typical of recent Arsenal. They were outthought, outfought and outplayed by a clever West Brom side that knew exactly how to heap more misery on Arsene Wenger.
“I know what I will do so you will know very soon. You will see,” said Wenger after the 3-1 defeat. “Today I do not worry about that.”
Responding to questions of criticism from the fans, the Frenchman was equally frank: “I watch the game, I do not watch the stands.
“I believe we have to deal with that and you focus on your job, no matter what people think.”
For once, the words seemed to echo those of a broken man. Even if the season had fallen apart in recent weeks, one thing that was commendable about Wenger was his continuation to face the media with the same agenda about how everything is under control and the team will work hard to put the mistakes right.
The set piece defending was something which the Gunners’ boss stressed was a huge factor in any potential success at the Hawthorns when speaking before the game. Doing the simple things wrong is something which Arsenal may have fallen foul with in recent weeks, but it was crucial they didn’t do it at West Brom.
Just 15 minutes ahead of kick-off he told Sky Sports that his team “had to be competitive on that front”, saying that WBA had scored “47% of their goals from set-pieces”.
Zonal marking was deployed, an approach which Matty Briggs debated in a separate piece, but it proved to be a failure. The third goal in particular was absolutely laughable, with Craig Dawson ghosting in unmarked to power home, adding fuel to the fire of the anti-Wenger protests going on in the away end.
Looking at that third goal for the Baggies, it’s clear to see how Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has either misunderstood his zone or is completely stood in the wrong place as he makes a half-hearted attempt to track the run of Dawson. If you’re plotting zonal marking, the first position you make sure is watertight is the exact area where Dawson headed home from.
This should be a concern for the pro-Wenger contingent. Arsene has clearly seen the potential issue, assumedly covered it in training, yet the players have let him down again. With a new deal for Wenger on the table and reportedly close to be announced, are we witnessing the first signs of an internal revolt?
While it would be wholly inaccurate to suggest that’s the case with all Arsenal’s players, the performance at West Brom on Saturday suggests a far-from-happy camp at the club right now.
Perhaps this is where Wenger’s comments become so transparent; perhaps he’s realised he can do no more to help these players, or maybe even more so that the players can do more to help him but are no longer interested in doing so.
There has been a worry amongst those wanting change at Arsenal that eventually he will alienate the squad with a string of bad results. The “stars” will go missing, the typical hard-workers will vanish and they will just be left with a soulless core.
That is exactly what we saw on Saturday afternoon, but for how much longer?
Lingard and Rashford give England the template they need
Manchester United became the first team to chalk up 600 Premier League wins on Sunday after they beat Middlesbrough 3-1 but the real headline maker was Jesse Lingard and his stunning goal.
The United winger scored a magnificent second for Jose Mourinho’s men, running fully 30 yards before unleashing a 25-yard swerving thunderbolt that flew past Victor Valdes and found the top corner.
Lingard’s relentless running and willingness to get on the ball should make him a starter when England take on Germany in a friendly in Dortmund on Wednesday, should he shake off the knock he picked up at the Riverside.
In a squad that is chock-full of pace it would be great to see Gareth Southgate opt for attacking threats that could rip through Germany on the break if, as we would assume, the home side have the majority of the possession.
Having the likes of Raheem Sterling, Nathan Redmond, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford to call on hints at the style of football that Southgate is looking to play, although he has been hampered by the absence of Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and skipper Wayne Rooney in the forward areas.
This squad, however, is likely to be the blueprint of Southgate’s England going forward.
Okay, so this well be more of an issue when the lesser nations visit Wembley and park the bus but ‘pace kills’ and we have it in abundance so why not use it.
After all if it’s good enough for Mourinho – United had just 36 per cent possession against 19th-placed Boro – then surely it’s good enough for Southgate and England.
Defoe call-up a victory for hard work and perseverance
Jermain Defoe was called up to the England squad on Thursday for the first time since November 2013, while Wayne Rooney was omitted from the 26-man party for the matches against Germany and Lithuania next week.
The contrasting fortunes of the pair is incredible as Defoe looked almost certain to never play for his country again following a move in February 2014 to Major League Soccer outfit Toronto FC.
In stark difference, Rooney was Manchester United’s leading scorer in 2013-14 campaign and a key member of Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions set-up.
Now, at the age of 34, Defoe has made the move back to the Premier League where he has scored 29 goals in the last two seasons at Sunderland – with 14 bagged so far this campaign.
At no point did the former Tottenham striker turn his back on his country and his reasons are music to the ears of any fan who grew up dreaming of walking out at Wembley.
“I would never rule myself out of playing for my country,” he told BBC World Focus in October 2014.
“There’s no better feeling than scoring goals for your country. To get that feeling again would be special.
“I’ve always said as a player to get into any international squad is based on merit, you’ve got to playing well for your club and that’s all you can do.”
Three months ago he reiterated his desire to play for England in an interview with talkSPORT but said: “Even if I get the golden boot I don’t think I’d get called up.”
Well here’s your chance Jermain and you well and truly deserve it!
On the flip side, Rooney is now 31 and in the worst form of his career. Even Rooney’s biggest supporters would struggle to find a concrete reason as to why he deserves a place in the squad.
The Liverpudlian has only managed two Premier League goals in 18 appearances of which nine were starts and it’s no wonder that he has failed to be selected by Gareth Southgate.
The debate surrounding the Euro 2016 campaign was ‘where can England shoehorn Rooney into the starting XI?’ and now it seems to be more a question of ‘where does he fit in the squad?’
With Rooney’s future up in the air, the summer would be a fitting time for the striker to say his goodbyes and look for the right club to get his career back on track.
Southgate was absolutely right to leave Rooney out and he has made no apologies for doing so – a refreshing tone from the man steering England onto a new course.
“I don’t think he expects, if he is not playing every week for his club, to be picked in this sort of situation,” Southgate said following the squad announcement.
Beginning of the end for Rooney on the international stage? Maybe, but Defoe’s call-up gives everyone hope of a brighter future.
Guardiola trying to hard to deflect from Man City failures
Managers deflect the media attention away from poor results and damaging headlines, we know this. Well, good managers do, and Guardiola is certainly one of those.
However, the Spaniard’s insistence that presiding over Manchester City’s 1-1 home draw with Liverpool was ‘one of his happiest days as a manager’ is just plain ridiculous.
This is a manager who has won La Liga titles, Bundesliga titles, the Champions League, and many smaller domestic trophies. This is someone who has overseen the development of Lionel Messi and coached him at his peak. Does an, admittedly entertaining, 1-1 draw against a Liverpool side who have not exactly impressed in recent months really stack up to that?
The reason Guradiola is trying so hard to deflect attention away is because his side are grossly underachieving. They are scandalously well-funded and should be doing far better than the last 16 of the Champions League and also-rans in the Premier League.
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So, yeah, fair play to him for trying to give people something else, other than his team’s failings to talk about. I just wish he could start a daft spat with another manager or attack an innocent referee or something instead so it was at least a little entertaining.
Liverpool are close, but next step may be beyond Klopp
Liverpool were very good at Manchester City, and they are looking in good shape for a top four finish right now. That has to have been the target at the start of the season, so fair play to them. It’s all about progress, and they are ticking that box.
You watch Liverpool and you always sort of think that they are not that far away from being genuine title contenders. They are very good, but that next step, the one to greatness, is, as we know, they hardest one.
Liverpool themselves know it all to well themselves too. They chased it for years under Rafa Benitez and never quite got there.
The problem that they may encounter is that there is something very Wenger-esq about Klopp.
He’s a manager who likes to get into players’ ears early in their careers and instil his philosophy as their own, and so he has always been something of a star-maker rather than a star-taker.
This summer, though, you just wonder if a little injection of established star quality is what is badly needed at Anfield. Whether or not Klopp will see it that way, may be one of the transfer-window’s most fascinating sub-plots.