With the news that David Silva is fit for tomorrow’s match, we City fans can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. Going to the Emirates is one of those fixtures that always stands out: we never seem to well there, so having Silva available is a huge boost.
Pellegrini described it as a “match of six points” earlier today and few would disagree – it feels like a game of huge significance. Yesterday evening, I spoke to Michael Keshani, my dear Arsenal-supporting friend, who’s also a Roger Federer lookalike and a beautiful writer. I asked him his thoughts on Wenger’s future and who he thinks will win the league.
Arsenal’s title challenge appears to be over. Is that how you see it?
Yes, it’s probably done for the season at this point. Had we beaten Swansea, I would have had us pegged as still with some measure of outside chance, but there’s just too little time left now. 6 points on Chelsea and 5 on Liverpool could definitely be made up by themselves, but then we’re three points behind City while you still have two in hand. Relying on all three teams to pull of Spurs-esque collapses with only 6 games left is just unrealistic. One of them will though. I hope it’s Liverpool.
Will Wenger leave?
I was sure he’d stay around the turn of the year, but the longer he goes without signing on again, the more possible it seems. If we don’t win the FA Cup, I think he’ll decide to go; if we do, there’s the choice for him to either keep on and carry us right back to where we were, or to leave on a high. Ultimately, I think if we can with the Cup, he’ll stay, but it’s far from sure and I’m most definitely worried. I also expect some ridiculous disaster will happen in the Cup.
It seems to be down to Chelsea, Liverpool and City now. Who do you think will win the league?
City. I still mostly expect us to finish above Liverpool (perhaps foolishly) and hence still see it as a straight choice between City and Chelsea. Winning the two games in hand would send you three clear and even if you lose a match along the way, they’re almost sure to drop points at least once and City have that goal difference. That being said, City’s confidence may be dented after the 8-0 obliteration they’re about to get on Saturday.
Is there discontent again amongst the fans again where Wenger’s position is concerned?
Yes. It’s not as hostile as it was just over a year ago, but because it’s a case of the club and he renewing, rather than outright removing him from his job, the question now is ‘do you want him to stay?’ rather than ‘do you want him to go?’. Lots of people I know who would never have countenanced the idea of him leaving in the past are either resigned to it or more ‘open to change’ than they were. A section of fans would be furious if he does renew, but they would have been anyway; the situation for those wavering is that most don’t want to want him go, but if we can’t win the Cup this year, it’ll be the last straw for them. Personally, I’m in the ‘please stay forever and ever’ camp regardless of what happens, but I can understand those thinking twice.
Who could replace him if he decided to go?
This is the problem this summer – very few are available. My preference when the time does come is Carlo Ancelotti, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be leaving Real Madrid this year. Pep Guardiola is obviously a non-option at the moment, and I’m not convinced that we could entice Frank de Boer or Jürgen Klopp, but they’re at least more likely options. If Arsène does leave and assuming all of those are unattainable, I’d like Louis van Gaal. He wouldn’t be around for long but he’s a fantastic manager and would suit our squad well. I like Roberto Martínez but it would be a bridge too far for him at the moment, he needs another few years with Everton. The one often mentioned is Rémi Garde, who is an average-to-good manager doing an average-to-good job with an average-to-good side, but crucially is the current boss’ mate. You only need to look at the other side of Manchester to see what transpires when that happens.
What do Arsenal need to be able to maintain a full season competing for the title? It just seems like you always run out of steam, although, this year was a more sustained challenge, to be fair.
This year was different because the squad has mostly sufficient depth and (contrary to what the hacks will tell you) the team is well led on the pitch. The injuries this year were just too much. Losing Theo Walcott for the season back in January was crushing but we survived most of the early season without him because Aaron Ramsey became the main goalscorer. Without both of them, we were relying on Olivier Giroud to do a job he can’t do, while Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla can’t create when no one runs off the ball. We were still grinding out a fair few results without Ramsey and Walcott, but once Özil joined them, and now Laurent Koscielny, too, there really wasn’t much life left.
Next year, you ideally have all of them fit, and you make sure you’re not as hamstrung when they’re not. So a striker who’s capable of running behind the defensive line, while doing all the grafting that Giroud does would be very nice (but bloody difficult to find for sane money). We need another central midfielder who can allow us to rest Ramsey more – ideally one who can be rotated with him so we don’t run him into the ground again, and also play next to him, while being able to mop up for Wilshere when he decides he wants to gallivant forward without telling anyone when played with him. Lars Bender, Morgan Schneiderlin or Daley Blind are my preferences there. I don’t ask for much.
The only first eleven addition we really, desperately need is a striker, but I expect they’ll add a striker and a left winger (Lukas Podolski will probably be sold, the club seem keen on Julian Draxler). So that’s a striker, a left winger and a defensive midfielder. We may need a right back if Bacary Sagna leaves (still holding out some hope he stays) and a centre back when Thomas Vermaelen is sold. And a backup goalkeeper because Łukasz Fabiański is almost definitely off. Man, we need quite a bit. But CF, DM and possibly RB are the only first team areas where we’ll be really short.
Arsenal’s best player this season?
The inclination is, of course, to say Aaron Ramsey, given how unbelievably good he was before Christmas. But he hasn’t played since Boxing Day and even though his absence has only shone further light on just how exceptional he was and is, I’m not sure if he can really be picked as our player of the season having missed four months of it. So I’ll say Per Mertesacker. He holds our defence together as long as the midfield in front hasn’t disintegrated and he’s one of the main reasons we’ve come so far and will keep progressing and moving forward. He’s a proper leader. He makes Koscielny and Sagna into better defenders and spreads a calm without the team that allows them to be comfortable and in complete control even without the ball. The expectation is he’ll be captain next year and there’s no centre back in the league I’d have ahead of him.
Combined Arsenal-City XI?
*Zabaleta and Sagna are the two best full backs by a long, long way, and it seems off to drop one when both can play on both sides. Zabaleta chosen on the left because from what I’ve seen he’s better there than Sagna, but that much is relatively minimal.
*They wouldn’t be the best partnership and it feels a shame to leave out Fernandinho (of whom I’m a very big fan) but both are far too good to ignore.
I have a strange optimism for this game, but I also had that ahead of the Chelsea game last week, so it’s probably best not to listen to me. With Vermaelen in for Koscielny and Flamini for Ramsey, I don’t have an awful lot of trust in them defensively and without Ramsey, Walcott and Özil, we’re not exactly offering much going forward. 0-2 to City is probably what’s going to happen, but I’ll say 3-1 Arsenal. Against all logic and reason.
Interview by Rob Pollard