No Retrospective Action For Welbeck
Despite the best efforts of a faux-indignant British football press and the hypocritical foaming at the mouth by Tottenham fans, the UEFA correctly decided to take no retrospective action for Danny Welbeck’s alleged dive against Milan that drew a penalty. To see the vitriol with which some in the media have attacked Welbeck, a player with absolutely no history of simulation or “cheap tricks”, has been eye-opening for many fans, though to others, it comes as no surprise. When Tottenham Hotspur players were taking multiple spills per match with the tacit approval of their manager, the media collectively battled to sweep the story under the rug so as not to throw dirt on their favourite, English-centric squad.
In truth, the real reason for their condemnation of Welbeck stems from Arsene Wenger’s comments about Tottenham’s serial diving about a month ago in which he pointed the finger at English players for their newfound competence in the act, stating that cheating must be stripped from the game. You could almost hear the frantic attempts of the media to save this clip for later, when an Arsenal player became involved in a similar situation. That moment came for them last Thursday, and social media almost instantly lit up with media members and fans alike crying foul at Wenger. They were noticeably embittered to see an Arsenal player get off without charge, and the Gooners can now look forward to even more dismissive treatment directed at their beloved club from the circling sharks of the media, who will be looking to exact their pound of flesh.
Goalkeeper Indecision? No.
The media are keeping up their fine form with their coverage of a Petr Cech interview in which he stated that he, as a competitor, would love to play every match for the club when fit, though he said that he understands Arsene Wenger’s policy of rotating between him and David Ospina for league and cup duties, respectively. To some reporting on the story, it is the sign of an important, disgruntled player calling into doubt his manager (and by extension his manager’s job). However, to Arsenal supporters, and those that pay attention, this is not news. Wenger has been alternating between both keepers as a rule for at least 2 full seasons now, and despite some papers (specifically one that rhymes with “pun”) trying to extract a controversy from Cech’s comments, he will continue to do so with the full clarity and understanding of both players. Stories like this serve as a stark reminder that everyone struggles to cope during the international break, specifically journalists looking to fill up their column inches with buzzworthy news.
A Rambo Gamble Now A Good Thing?
While many of his teammates jetted off to join their international teammates this week, Aaron Ramsey remained behind to have a surgical operation on his troublesome groin/hamstring area. As fans are all too aware, Ramsey’s career has been perpetually blighted by injury since his horrific leg break in 2010, and there appears to be a tentative hope from the club that this should help remedy the frequent recurrence of his muscular injuries. However, the decision represents an enormous gamble for Arsenal, as Ramsey has been as good as any Gunner this season when healthy, and they will need him to be available as much as possible for the business end of the season.
It is uncertain whether there has been a shift in policy as it pertains to nagging or recurring injuries at the club, but Ramsey becomes the second player who is arguably fit enough to play that the Gunners have withdrawn from training and playing to have a corrective surgery. The first, Alexandre Lacazette, is working overtime to get back into match fitness for the Europa League clash with CSKA Moscow on April 5, and having returned to light training last week, is right on schedule to make his return. As for Ramsey, a shorter timetable to his French teammate has been assumed by some, but the club is offering less clarity on that front, as they are yet to offer an estimate for his return. Even if Arsene Wenger has to get a little creative with his team for a couple matches until his tireless Welshman is available, it will be seen as a fair sacrifice should this surgery correct the constant problems and momentum killing injuries that have blighted Rambo’s recent seasons.
Russia: No Problems Here for You Gooners
Shortly after Arsenal issued fans a warning from the Foreign Office about potential trouble and political strife should they choose to travel to Moscow for the Europa League clash between Arsenal and CSKA Moscow, Russian official Alexei Sorokin refuted this notion in a statement. Sorokin, the chief of the Russian World Cup organising committee and a senior member of the Russian Football Union, stated that despite the unfortunate circumstances under which the match will be played, the safety of all travelling fans and players is assured, and further that there were “no grounds” to issue such warnings.
Well, ok Alexei…fair play and all that, but excuse me if I don’t feel much more comfortable with the idea. This is, after all, the country that has decided to expel 23 British diplomats in retaliation to the British government recently doing the same with Russians following the poisoning of a Russian former spy in Salisbury, not to mention the credible reports of them interfering in the elections of multiple western-style democracies around the world. Still, it would be a brazen and ill-advised move for the Russian government to allow anything untoward to happen when Arsenal comes to town, so while the Foreign Office was wise in making its recommendation, the match should go off without too much trouble.
Goalkeepers On The Radar
While many fans are focused on additions to the central midfield, centre defence and pace on the wings, there is also a strong push for a new goalkeeper in many circles. Petr Cech has not been the disappointment that some have painted him as since his arrival in the summer of 2015, but it is clear his best days have passed him by. Additionally, his deputy David Ospina has been itching for a move away during the last two summers, and this may be the year he gets his wish. However, this would leave the Gunners with a glaring hole at the back that would demand filling (though some would argue the need for a new keeper is real, irrespective of the future of both current players), and there have already been several mouth-watering possibilities named by media outlets.
At the top of the heap sits Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak, truly one of the world’s very best at the position, and with a reported release clause of ~£90 million. While he would undoubtedly be a brilliant signing, there is some question as to whether using up such a significant portion of the club’s transfer budget on a goalkeeper is a wise move with so many holes left to fill. Other players that have been linked to Arsenal include Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno (£25m), Koln’s Timo Horn (£6m, as a result of a relegation clause in his contract), Stoke City’s Jack Butland (thought to be worth more than the £30m Jordan Pickford) and this humble writer’s personal favourite, teenager Alban Lafont of Toulouse. In this group, Arsenal have a wide range of prices and styles from which to choose their next goalkeeper, and it should be fascinating to see the dynamic play out this summer, particularly with each of Arsenal’s big player decision makers appearing to have their favourites (Raul Sanllehi favours Oblak, Sven Mislintat likes Leno and Horn and Wenger almost certainly is a fan of Lafont). With a busy summer on the cards for Arsenal, the search to sign the next great Gunner between the sticks will be one thread that supporters cannot wait to follow.