Last week’s Arsenal training ground plan, which I described to you in this column, worked perfectly against Tottenham’s Harry Kane and he was kept quiet for virtually the whole match. Arsenal’s euphoric 3-1 win against their north London rivals inspired many Gunners’ fans to email me and so did some of the staff. They point out that Arsenal have no distractions this season in European matches. Providing injuries are kept to a minimum the club are convinced they can make a top four place by next May. Arsenal have previously lacked commitment whereas in the Tottenham match they showed plenty. The one player who impressed me most was Emile Smith Rowe who controlled midfield and he was genuinely delighted to play in front of his beloved Arsenal fans and his own family who cheered from the executive seats. Now Mikel Arteta has to use this momentum and keep the good work going against Aston Villa and this week and the team have spent much of their time studying every tactic Villa have used in the last month so they can suffocate the claret and blues in the way they contained Kane, Son and Dele Alli.
It is easy to criticise a manager when teams lose but I have noticed that United’s Ole Gunner Solskjaer seems blinded by the famous tags attached to some of his senior players. When United were struggling to break the deadlock with Aston Villa he ignored the youth sitting on his bench, Jadon Sancho and Daniel James. Instead he persevered with Ronaldo and brought on Edinson Cavani, who have a combined age of nearly 70! Sir Alex Ferguson always embraced youth – his class of ’92 being a prime example when Beckham, Butt, Neville and Scholes etc were mere novices and yet produced the results. I have the greatest respect for Ronaldo and Cavani, two of the most gifted players ever to play the game, however if United are to progress for the future then . Borussia Dortmund’s CEO, who sanctioned the move of his star player to Manchester United, said this week, “It hurts my soul that he is so neglected. I love Jadon.” If Solskjaer needs convincing he just needs to look at Arsenal’s three youngsters, Saka, Odegaard and Smith Rowe to see how devastating youth can be.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the UK is suffering from a lack of fuel. Tottenham Hotspur are in the same predicament, a lack of firepower! Chairman Daniel Levy took 72 days and suffered eight rejections before hiring Nuno Espirito Santo. Whereas Spurs two most valuable assets, Harry Kane and Heung Min-Son provided the club with a lethal attacking threat Nuno is not known for aggressive, creative, attacking football. His teams are more methodical, accurate passing and patient slow build-up moves progressing forward from the back. After a solid start to the season when Spurs were actually top of the table they have now suffered three defeats in a row and shipped nine goals. Mourinho was sacked for his boring realistic, practical approach and for not using the creativity of Kane and Son to full effect. (There were of course several other reasons). At Spurs it seems to be ‘here we go again’, same old, same old. From all my research and discussions there is an underlying problem at Spurs. The players don’t trust or respect Nuno after seeing eight top managers reject the job of managing them before the ex-Wolves manager strolls into White Hart Lane. It shows on the training pitch and it shows during matches where the players are disorganised and lacking direction. Many of the players complain that Nuno is grumpy and cold like Mourinho during his final weeks at the club. The result is that Spurs have recorded the least amounts of attempts on goal in the PL and very little from open play. That signals frustration for Kane, a player who was convinced by the chairman that the club would win trophies and he should stay. Next time Harry tries to leave there will be no stopping him if things do not improve and Nuno certainly won’t be there to witness it.
Ronaldo for management?
Every time Manchester United fail to perform Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s job is brought into question. I keep hearing Zinedine Zidan’s name mentioned from various sources as his possible replacement. This week however I picked up a story which made me laugh but then I considered the facts. There are rumours going around that Cristiano Ronaldo could take the manager’s role at Old Trafford in eighteen months. At first I could not take the story seriously. However, thinking back, when he was substituted against Young Boys in the Champions League, instead of taking his seat with the other substitutes he stood in the technical area with Solskjaer and was pointing out player movements and making suggestions. At the 2016 Euro final when Portugal beat France Ronaldo was injured and had to leave the field. However, he joined manager Fernando Santos on the touchline and took part in directing play. Could it be that Ronaldo, reputed to be worth around £200million will take a dramatic pay cut when he retires and take up a coaching role so he can pass on his mastery of the game to other players?
Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger is heading for big money if he leaves at the end of his contract which expires in June next year. Bayern Munich and Juventus are both chasing the German defender and I understand a salary of £400k a week has been mentioned. That is £20million a year which is considerably more than Chelsea’s opening offer of £130k a week and Rudiger is talking with his agents.
Following Wolves 1-0 win against Southampton, goalscorer Raul Jimenez underwent a thorough check-up. He suffered a career and life threatening injury when fracturing his skull in a heading accident with Arsenal’s David Luiz last November.
He said after the game and his check-up, “I have been looking for this goal since the start of the Premier League and now I feel really good. I am now fit enough to keep up the intense training and hard work so I will improve and score many more goals for Wolves.”
Last season James Maddison’s name was in every manager’s thoughts. His star was on the rise and he was all smiles and positivity. What a difference a year makes. Last weekend, after some hard conversations with his Leicester manager Brendan Rogers, he was dropped to the bench. James was a very unhappy man. Rogers backed his decision by explaining that James is suffering from a lack of confidence because this season so far he has scored no goals or provided any assists. Rogers sent him onto the pitch in the Brighton game with 12 minutes to go but the hoped for spark never materialised. Rogers said, “He’s maybe not at the level he wants to be but you have to respect his talent and his quality. He may be a bit short on confidence at the moment but he’s still a big talent for this club, never doubt that. You can bring him into a game and he can create something out of nothing. He combined well and he’s always a threat in and around the box. He’s a player I trust.”