Sanchez’s injury as predictable as Wenger’s mistakes
Manchester United fans might have assumed that they would end the weekend as the most frustrated. They’d played pointlessly conservatively and been punished for it, just as Manchester City took a deserved three points. However, it should be Arsenal supporters who are the most fed up.
Last week, Arsene Wenger had told the press that Alexis Sanchez was in the ‘red zone’, his description of players who are in a grey area of fatigue which means they can perform in a match, but are at a heightened risk of injury. He knew he had an injury list as long as his list of excuses for not winning the league for a decade, but still he risked Sanchez.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was fit to play from the bench, and Aaron Ramsey was able to start. Norwich are a poor side who are beatable for teams like Arsenal, even if they are depleted. On this weekend, when United and Leicester dropped points, and hours after Chelsea and Spurs played out a draw, it would have been an acceptable risk to allow Sanchez to skip the game, and make sure he is ready to compete later.
Instead, Sanchez is now out for at least a couple of weeks (knowing Arsenal, it might be a couple of years) with a hamstring problem. Arsenal have not yet qualified for the Champions League and Sanchez will be touch and go, if available at all, for the match. He will certainly miss another Premier League game. This happens again and again with Wenger and Arsenal, and there’s no point being angry or frustrated - this is just what they do and will continue to do until the manager changes.
Manchester United now have two elephants in the room
We all know, save for Louis van Gaal and a few of his old colleagues in the media, that Wayne Rooney is finished. His contribution against Leicester City was to dive pathetically, to fall over, to head the ball into the ground with his face, and to get kicked by Robert Huth. When he was replaced by Memphis with 22 minutes of the match to go, United improved. They now had 11 players on the pitch rather than 10, and Memphis’s willingness to dribble, ability to pass and control the ball, and occasional shot, highlight everything that Rooney didn’t do.
Memphis was nothing special, nor were the rest of his colleagues, but at least it showed the crowd that playing with a striker capable of fulfilling the basic obligations of the role is preferable to having a sack of potatoes in a United shirt. That Van Gaal and Rooney’s pals will not say as much is holding United back.
But not as much as Van Gaal himself. Other people, notably Gary Neville - who you wonder if he now fancies the job - have been willing to point out United’s conservative approach. So has Peter Schmeichel and Paul Scholes, and a ‘source’ told James Ducker of the Times this week that Ryan Giggs is disillusioned with Van Gaal’s treatment of pacey striker James Wilson. But Van Gaal is unwilling to see not just Rooney’s terrible effect on the team, but his own. At the end of the match he told his players they should win games like this, and in the same breath criticised Paddy McNair for playing like a striker.
So, according to Van Gaal, it’s wrong for a defender (who used to play in attacking midfield) to join the attack when his side are chasing an attack. Far better that they continue to play aimlessly from side to side, as the manager instructs. It’s time for a change. Van Gaal can’t see it, but everyone else watching can.
The race to celebrate Jamie Vardy demeans us all
A couple of weeks before Jamie Vardy racially abused a man in a casino, Leicester City rightly sacked some of their youth players for racially abusing a woman on a pre-season tour. Shortly after Vardy racially abused a man in a casino, he was fined by his club and sent on a sensitivity course. A couple of weeks after that, he was called up to the England squad, and the matter of his racist abuse wasn’t mentioned by his club manager, his country’s manager, or people in a newspaper.
Instead, there was a rush to be overjoyed about his career’s ascent from non-league to the Premier League, to the national side, and now to scoring in 11 consecutive games to beat Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record. We are always told that it is an impressive achievement, and fair enough, his incredible rise is almost as incredible as his fitness levels and his sudden improvement in ability. But he has been given a woefully easy time after his far more significant transgression.
As Vardy ran to celebrate his goal against Manchester United, he said, “Me, me, it’s all f*cking me.” Not his teammates, not the fans, not his manager. It’s all him. We have seen that Luis Saurez being indulged by Liverpool and his country has produced an excellent footballer and a pitiful human being bent on being painted as a victim whatever he does and no matter how bad it is. We often ask ourselves why England doesn’t produce players of the quality of Suarez. Now England has its own goalscoring, abusive narcissist. Well done everyone.
Newcastle are now the Premier League’s indisputably worst team
Steve McClaren is not without talent. At Middlesbrough and Manchester United he was held in high regard. At FC Twente he had impressive success, contrasting with English coaches’ usual timidity when it comes to going abroad, recovering from the farce of his England career.
At Derby he started well, but from February things became disastrous, and a change of club hasn’t made a difference. At Newcastle United, not only do they have a manager unable to control his players, they have players who have no interest in playing for their manager, club or supporters. To go one-nil up at Crystal Palace, a direct team offering attacking threat from the wings, they should have kept things tight after scoring an early goal, and at least made it hard for them.
Instead, they waited four minutes, and waved Palace through again and again. Now, the players at McClaren’s disposal yesterday are generally poor, the defence especially, but the attitude to give up after a quarter of an hour can be partly blamed on the manager too. Bad players, and the wrong coach, with an uninterested owner. It is the perfect storm.
Chelsea have a platform to build on, even if it is still shaky
Chelsea need as many points as they can manage, but things could have been worse. They have looked brittle and gutless, and woeful in attack. Things improved in all regards in their match against Spurs.
In attack, only a little, and it is a concern that Jose Mourinho has lost faith in Diego Costa, who was on the bench today. He has failed with his fitness and finishing since coming back from the summer break, but Eden Hazard, Pedro and Oscar offered more as they changed positions across the attack. If they replace Radamel Falcao in the winter, they have something to build on, at least, which can’t be said of Chelsea’s inconsistent results. Costa’s warming up, which consisted of ambling about in the corner and doing conspicuously little, suggests that there is still some ill feeling in the team that could flare up in future.
In defence, things were far more resilient. Spurs had some chances, but Spurs have talented players in attack, and the dangerous Harry Kane was kept, largely, to shots from distance. Branislav Ivanovic was less of a liability than he has been, and some youngsters were even given a chance by Mourinho, with Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek getting some minutes.
It has been slow and painful, and things might yet fall apart yet again for Chelsea. They have been plenty of poor results following glimmers of hope, but any side would settle for a point against Spurs at this stage of the season.