Monday Verdict: Wenger blame; Costa fuss overblown

Date published: Monday 30th November 2015 12:32

Alexis Sanchez: Injured in Arsenal's draw at Norwich City

Mark Holmes gives his verdict on Alexis Sanchez’s injury, Diego Costa’s strop and the apparent raft of Jamie Vardys playing in the lower leagues.

Summer inactivity could haunt Wenger

Arsene Wenger is coming in for lots of criticism over his decision to play Alexis Sanchez against Norwich City on Sunday, but the Arsenal manager isn’t to blame for the Chilean’s injury.

It was suggested on Sky Sports after the 1-1 draw at Carrow Road that Wenger should have ignored Sanchez’s declaration that he “had no problem” and was fit to play, yet plenty of people have praised Jamie Vardy for continuing to play through the pain barrier for Leicester City.

The reality is that most of the footballers that take to the pitch every weekend are carrying an injury of some sort. There are some, like Daniel Sturridge, that refuse to play unless fully fit, but the overwhelming majority are willing to risk further injury by turning out when not 100%.

Sanchez told Wenger that he was happy to play. The medical staff checked assessed the movement in his hamstring and concurred that he could start. Perhaps they made a mistake. But having been informed by both the medical team and Sanchez himself that he was fit, Wenger cannot be blamed for his subsequent injury.

However, going into the Norwich game, Sanchez had played at least 75 minutes in every one of Arsenal’s Premier League and Champions League games since the opening weekend of the season. He even appeared as a substitute in their Capital One Cup defeat at Sheffield Wednesday. And this is a man, remember, that did not start pre-season training with the Gunners until August after leading Chile to the Copa America title.

It may not be Wenger’s fault that Sanchez was injured on Sunday, but it is certainly his fault that the 26-year-old had been pushed to his physical limits in the first place. Was he really required to play 430 of 450 minutes during the Gunners’ five-game winning run in the Premier League, for example? Sanchez may not even have looked tired in any of those games, but surely a manager would want to get his star player some rest whenever possible?

Perhaps more pertinently, it is Wenger’s fault that he clearly believes there is insufficient quality in the squad to stand in for Sanchez.

Wenger said in the summer that Arsenal “have a big squad” and “do not need to buy a number of players”.

“If we can get top, world-class players we will look at it, but we have a very strong squad already in number,” he said.

Yet there is not a single player in Wenger’s squad that he has trusted this season to start ahead of Sanchez. That Joel Campbell replaced him at Carrow Road says everything you need to know about Arsenal’s apparent ‘strength’ in the wide positions. You might say they have been unlucky in that department if you care to be generous about their latest injury crisis – Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky are all currently sidelined – but the truth is that Wenger’s decision not to strengthen his attacking options over the summer is now coming back to haunt him.

How he will hope Arsenal do not crash out of the Champions League next week having failed to score the necessary goals against Olympiacos…

Costa ‘bust-up’ a fuss about nothing

‘Diego Costa’s Chelsea future is on the line after another public bust-up with boss Jose Mourinho’, reads the back page on the Daily Star.Diego Costa Daily Star

‘Furious striker throws bib at Mourinho after being dropped’, say The Times.

Talk about a fuss about nothing. The apparent ‘bust-up’ was not so public that it was witnessed by this particular onlooker – and to say Costa threw his bib at Mourinho is one hell of an overstatement considering the Chelsea manager was unaware the bib had been thrown at all. But then ‘Mourinho unaware as Costa throws bib in air’ is not quite such a sexy headline…

Mourinho also refuted suggestions after the game that Costa had gone against orders when failing to warm up with his team-mates prior to kick-off.

“A top player going on the bench, they are not happy,” Mourinho said. “For me his behaviour was normal. He was ready to play when they went to warm up.”

Some ‘bust-up’.

Far more interesting than Costa’s reaction to his non-appearance – ‘top striker unhappy at being dropped shock horror’ – was Mourinho’s decision to use Eden Hazard as a false nine. Loic Remy has started only one Premier League game all season, when Costa was suspended, and on the day that Mourinho finally decided to try something different up front, Remy was not even on the bench following the birth of his child.

In the absence of both Costa and Remy, Hazard did OK but nothing more. He forced Hugo Lloris into his only save of the match and made more sprints than any other player on the pitch, but he headed over an excellent chance in the first half which you suspect a proper centre-forward would not have done. The Belgian remains without a goal in 20 appearances for Chelsea this season. The idea of Hazard, Pedro, Oscar and Willian interchanging in the front four positions sounds exciting, but such a combination is not going to solve the team’s goalscoring problem.

With Bournemouth up next for the champions next weekend, it will be interesting to see what Mourinho tries next to get the goals flowing again.

Lower Leagues NOT full of Jamie Vardys

‘Why don’t top Premier League clubs look for more Jamie Vardys? Conor McLaughlin may not have an exotic back story’ but he’s Northern Ireland’s first choice’

In his column for the Daily Mail, Martin Samuel is critical of an apparent reluctance of Premier League clubs to sign players from the lower leagues, citing Fleetwood Town right-back Conor McLaughlin as a possible unearthed gem.

‘Conor McLaughlin may well be useless,’ Samuel bizarrely begins his column, ‘yet, plenty of rather good judges say McLaughlin isn’t useless at all. He’s quick and intelligent, a tidy passer, delivers a mean cross on the overlap and holds his own as first choice for Northern Ireland. So he must have something, as Northern Ireland won European Championship qualifying group F, ahead of Greece and Romania.Jamie Vardy

‘One of the players McLaughlin keeps out of the team, Paddy McNair, plays for Manchester United where he initially got his chance at right back.

‘Yet while the Romania squad who finished behind Northern Ireland includes five players who have been given a chance in the Premier League — and at some pretty big clubs, too — plus another in the Championship and one with Rangers, nobody comes calling for McLaughlin.

‘It is as if Fleetwood Town are unworthy, as if it is beneath the new masters of recruitment to consider a player who does not come with an exotic back story.’

Without wishing to reproduce Samuel’s column in full, he suggests that Tottenham would not have ‘needed as much convincing’ to sign Dele Alli from MK Dons ‘if he had been the brightest prospect at an academy in Bucharest, with an aggrandising DVD and a name-dropping agent talking up the interest from the rest of the continent’s elite?’

Much of what Samuel writes  has been repeated elsewhere and is backed up by former Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood, who has suggested that “clubs are not sending scouts out as much to these lower leagues.”

“Any player can be made to look good on a showreel,” Sherwood says. “It’s far sexier to go to the top European leagues and find these players.”

With respect to Samuel and Sherwood, the suggestion that there are countless more Premier League-ready players plying their trade at clubs such as Fleetwood is complete nonsense. The scouting networks at the elite clubs are so big that they are aware of the best players in the Football League before they have even made their debuts. Harry Redknapp said last week that Vardy “came onto our radar at Tottenham when he had moved to Swindon Town at the age of 20.”

It is why Chris Smalling was signed by Fulham from Maidstone United at the age of 18. It’s why Joe Hart was signed by Manchester City from Shrewsbury when still only 19. It’s why Alli, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are now Premier League regulars, with Gareth Bale playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. All of them were signed from the Football League.

Yes, there is the odd player like Vardy that develops late and is overlooked by Premier League clubs in favour of players proven in the top flight, whether in England or elsewhere. But anyone fearing their club’s scouts are missing a trick should fear not: if Conor McLaughlin or any other Football League player is good enough, your club will have been tracking his progress long before he appeared on the radar of Martin Samuel.

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