Shocking Cup Final Performance Raises Heat On Wenger
None of the 14 players that took the pitch on Sunday against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup Final covered themselves in glory, but neither was it Arsene Wenger’s finest hour. He cut a frustrated figure in the first half as an amateurish defensive error dismantled his conservative tactical plan, and he found some match referee Craig Pawson’s decisions objectionable. The second half saw the wheels fall off, and since marching angrily out of Wembley with a half hour to play, supporters have been making their anger known.
The intensifying call for the Frenchman’s job has seen a crush of headlines in the football press touting possible replacements from all over Europe. There have been big-name managers like Carlo Ancelotti, Joachim Loew of Germany, Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, Juventus’ Max Allegri, to the trendy choices such as Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim, Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri and outside the box picks like former Arsenal player and current Manchester City assistant Mikel Arteta and even Shakhtar Donetsk manager Paulo Fonseca. Journalists have almost committed to the idea that Arsene Wenger will leave after the season is complete, but it is worth noting that he cannot be fired by the club due to the no-break clause inserted in his most recent contract, but he could still depart through mutual agreement with the club.
Wilshere Points the Finger
Midfielder Jack Wilshere took to Instagram on Monday with a message for the fans, first congratulating Manchester City before launching into a detailed critique of calls he feels Pawson got wrong. He believed that Sergio Aguero’s elbow to Shkodran Mustafi’s back on his opening goal should have been whistled a foul, before declaring the second goal offsides and that City midfielder Fernandinho should have received a second yellow for a hard challenge that drew some consideration from Pawson. He concluded his comment with a gentle reminder to Gooners that everyone needs to stick together. Reaction to Wilshere’s comments has been mixed, some agreeing with his opinions and others having little patience for what they see as excuses for a poor performance. He and his teammates will get the chance to redeem themselves as they welcome that same City side to the Emirates on Thursday in the Premier League.
Heading into Thursday, the club will be monitoring the health of a few key players to make sure they are at full fitness for a pivotal league match. Nacho Monreal was forced off with an injury in the first half on Sunday with an apparent leg injury, which has also forced him out of multiple matches in the last month. Aaron Ramsey has returned from a groin injury but looked anything but sharp on Sunday, and the same can be said for Mesut Ozil, who was struck with an illness early last week and forced to miss valuable training. Alex Iwobi should be a full go after suffering severe cramp in his last outing, but as always on a short week of rest, Laurent Koscielny’s injury status is never guaranteed until match day due to chronic back and Achilles ailments. Alexandre Lacazette remains out for at least another couple of weeks, but Wenger has been encouraged by his progress in rehabilitation and he could be in contention for the next round of the Europa League against AC Milan in mid-March.
Dynamic Duo Enough of a Difference?
Henrikh Mhkitaryan was forced to watch his teammates take the pitch without him in the Carabao Cup Final and subsequently get beaten soundly by the Premier League’s best team due to his being cup tied from his time with Manchester United. With him likely to be back in the in the starting XI for the rematch just 4 days later, fans will be praying he rediscovers his old magic with good friend and reunited teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to help life the Gunners to a better result. They were brilliant against a dreadful Everton to kick off the month of February, but Mhkitaryan has since shown some of the inconsistencies that made him frustrate United fans at times, and Aubameyang was virtually silent in each of his last two starts. Both are classy players with qualities to help this Arsenal attack, and Wenger will be hoping they shine in time to salvage the Gunners’ season.
Milan Veering Into Overconfidence?
AC Milan Sporting Director Massimiliano Mirabelli seems to think that Arsenal will not provide much of a resistance to his surging team, as he was quoted saying he feels sorry for the Gunners that they will advance no further in the Europa League than their last 16 match with Milan. Former player Gennaro Gattuso was widely seen as a temporary solution when he took over mid-season for the sacked Vincenzo Montella, but since the turn of the new year, Milan have been in searing form, and are currently sitting pretty on a 12 game unbeaten run. The Gunners may be an easy target for opponents and the media after such a terrible performance in the Carabao Cup Final, but there is a lot of talent and pride still at the club, and they know the challenge they have left themselves for the rest of the season