On the training field on Monday, I wondered where the Arsenal manager would focus his attention and so did many of his assistants as they looked to him for answers after the Gunners failed to hold Manchester City on the opening day of the season. One of my sources at the club said he looked indecisive as he tried to work out what had happened to his team. I wrote a long in-depth article recently describing how tough Unai Emery is going to find the Premier League and is he the right man to take over from Arsene Wenger? One match doesn’t prove anything but Arsenal’s emphatic loss to City will certainly have given Unai a clear message as to how difficult his job is going to be! Arsenal are one of the great clubs in the world of football but I am worrying that this season might see fans often disappointed as they face the likes of City, Liverpool, United and Chelsea. It must be said that facing Manchester City in the first match of the new campaign is not what any club would want however at the start of the match the noise from the Gunner’s fans at the Emirates Stadium was deafening. The Arsenal faithful are simply brilliant supporters. Could this be the start of the new horizon and the beginning of life after Wenger where Arsenal feature prominently in the top four? You felt that Arsenal might be a re-energised side. But alas, in this match, it was not to be. All the old problems suffered under Arsene Wenger are still there. It was as though he had never left. Arsenal were simply awful in defence! Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka were dreadful and just did not play together. Time and again the skills of Raheem Sterling cut them apart. Long before half time the Gunner’s fans were silenced and their worst fears realised. Arsenal’s game plan, if there was one, saw Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan go missing – again! After a difficult World Cup, Ozil had a point to prove and he didn’t. At one point I forgot he was on the field! 36 year-old goalkeeper Petr Cech was asked to pass out from the back and start sweeping runs to enable the defence to play through the middle – in the same way that City does so effectively but their Arsenal players, on this showing, do not have that quality. Aaron Ramsey, very much Unai Emery’s highly prized midfield organizer, simply could not marshal his troops into an effective fighting force. Why Emery left new signings Bernd Leno, the German goalkeeper, and Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira on the bench is simply beyond me and also baffled the other football writers and the fans in particular. By the end of the match they were left fearing what might become of the Gunners this season. Sterling’s blistering pace and focus was simply brilliant. I am one of his harshest critics because I think he should score more goals but in this game he cut inside time and again, leaving Hector Bellerin and new signing Matteo Guendouzi trailing behind and he scored after only 14 minutes! Arsenal fans, be patient. One game does not make a season and the Gunners can only improve but on this showing it is going to be a long hard road. Oh, and by the way, Pep Guardiola didn’t even start with his star players Kevin de Bryune, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and captain Vincent Kompany.
Liverpool looking very good
I reported to you last week how Liverpool is perfectly set up to take on all opponents this season. The club completed a marvellous job over the summer with their new signings and pre-season work. Jurgen Klopp has proven already what a class manager he is. West Ham was the unfortunate team to find out just how good Liverpool are going to be this season. The Reds started their 2018 account with their biggest first opening game win since 1932 (that is 86 years for those without a calculator!). The summer masterstroke was signing Naby Keita who looks very capable of controlling games from the midfield. He is Steven Gerrard’s natural successor and wears the legend’s coveted No8 shirt. He covers other players very effectively, drops back when needed and holds the ball in readiness for an attack. Most of all he sprays out passes to the likes of Salah, Firmino and Mane giving them opportunities inside the box time. On the training field Klopp has been working Keita hard and bonding him with his forwards, working on building from midfield and attacking goal. If you think of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and then add a goal scoring finish, then you can see what Keita is and what a difference he is going to make. I was pleased to learn that the Guinean is already popular with his fellow players. He has fitted in well and was sharing some jokes during the training session. All of Liverpool’s qualities from last season are still there and this time around manager Jurgen Klopp has plugged the gaps, addressed the weak areas and has a team, which can challenge the mighty Pep Guardiola down the road at City. I spoke with a club doctor regarding Dejan Lovren’s injury following his return last week from World Cup duties and a holiday. He is carrying a stomach injury and has revealed that he played through the World Cup matches in pain to help Croatia get to the final. Despite a luxury of defenders, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan are also having their own injury battles. Lovren has now flown to Holland to see a specialist doctor to assess the extent of his injury. He admitted that even getting in and out of his car is very painful.
Clever stuff from Zaha and Benteke!
If you want to confuse your opponents go back to school and learn French! Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha and striker Christian Benteke were more than a handful for Fulham last weekend and I found out the reason why the Fulham defence were not keeping up with the two Belgian players. When either Benteke or Zaha get the ball they shout to each other in their native French language. Not many opponents understand them, so for instance, when Benteke gets the ball he shouts to Zaha who then dashes forward down the wing and the striker can send him a long ball before the defence realises what is happening! Who said footballers are not very clever! I wonder if they talk French behind manager Roy Hodgson’s back?