We’re going to win the league

Ranieri Arsenal v Leicester

Claudio Ranieri – photo by Ronnie MacDonald http://www.flickr.com

A rather remarkable title race means that four sets of fans are currently entitled to sing that line. Leicester fans can scarcely believe that they’re still in the league and yet here they are sitting atop it, gazing down in some wonder at those below.

Immediately below them are Tottenham. Spurs fans are probably also a little surprised by the present elevation of their league position. I had Spurs down for a good season but I hadn’t anticipated it being this good. They have of course benefitted from shortcomings elsewhere (most obviously in Manchester) but Pochettino is the real deal and the most important task for Tottenham in the short term is to hold on to their young manager.

Below Spurs we find their North London rivals Arsenal. Last weekend I watched the derby between the two and it exposed the frailties of both sides. Being an Arsenal fan must be one hugely frustrating experience; that team is about as predictable as a Donald Trump press conference.

Wenger’s attempt to ‘Make Arsenal Great Again’ is proving to be a decidedly protracted effort. The Arsenal boss is considered one of football’s intellectuals (hence the nickname ‘the professor’) so I’m not sure if he’s ever read Mr. Trump’s ‘Art of the Deal.’ Perhaps he should as it’s the lack of deals at the Emirates which have made strangers of Arsenal and greatness.

If Arsenal don’t win the league this season then Wenger should not begin next season in charge. Next season is already shaping up to be a very different proposition. Pep’s arrival will shake things up – and make City heavy title favourites – while the prospect of Mourinho at Man U is likely to result in a combination of both shaking and stirring.

Mourinho may have his eye on replacing Daniel Craig as Bond though; he likes a sharp suit, he tends to be a little rogue in the matter of obeying rules, and of course defence is his speciality.

Guardiola v Mourinho again could make Manchester home of a new ‘Classico’ of English football although, like all English sides at the moment, the Manchester clubs have a long way to go to bridge the gap between them and the big two in Spain.

Manchester City have invested heavily in a bid to achieve domestic dominance and at least become continental contenders. As I write this, I’m watching them make reasonably hard work of dominating Norwich. It’s nil – nil at half time.

With Chelsea’s calamitous campaign, City’s squad should be head and shoulders above the rest of the current league. Sterling is just about to come off the bench in the Norwich game and his season sums up City’s overall: flashes of inspiration but only intermittently and seemingly a rather strange lack of confidence.

I fully expect him to hit a screamer into the top corner with his first touch now.

Sterling hasn’t delivered top dollar as yet for his new club but there’s no doubt that Guardiola will be given significant funds to strengthen the squad in the summer. It will be interesting to see whose interest Pep will be able to pique.

Before then however there’s a league to be won (or more likely lost). So who will it be? Like all romantics I hope that it will be Leicester. It would be an epic triumph and about as plausible as Mourinho being cast as the next Bond. I don’t think either will happen sadly. The pressure will probably tell eventually on Leicester and more comfortable breathing will be found at lower altitude.

City’s continued struggles to break down Norwich here do not indicate a side on the verge of a title winning surge. In fact, the increasingly look like a side on the verge of a purge with the imminent arrival of the new boss.

So that leaves Arsenal and Spurs. The former will surely contrive to drop points to various relegation threatened teams during the run in, prompting phone in meltdowns from Gunners’ fans and calls for a new professor to take the class of 2016-17.

Spurs then, by default, are my pick as champions – appropriately enough in a by default sort of a season. It’s hugely exciting and gripping entertainment but the quality has been questionable. “We’re gonna win the league” will continue to ring out at many grounds in the next few weeks but it’s the Spurs fans I expect to still be singing it when the rest have ceased.

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The Monday Post – 24/11/14

Jurgen Klopp. Photo by: Asia Joanna www.flickr.com

Jurgen Klopp. Photo by: Asia Joanna
http://www.flickr.com

After the international break, attention returned to the domestic scene and I’m going to focus on three very high profile managers who find themselves under pressure following disappointing results at the weekend: Brendan Rodgers, Arsene Wenger, and Ally McCoist.

Liverpool lost 3-1 at Crystal Palace and after the game Rodgers admitted “I’m not arrogant enough to think that I will be in a job through anything, any manager will tell you that you have to win games and you have to get results.” The results that he’s been getting this season have been very poor ones.

One unusual aspect of yesterday’s debacle was that a Liverpool striker actually scored. Lambert, long overdue a run in the side, put Liverpool ahead very early on but they then got “bullied” out of the game as Jamie Carragher put it. The former Liverpool player blasted his old club for being “mentally and physically weak.” It’s a charge that they don’t have much defence against at the moment.

There’s no doubt that Liverpool are currently suffering a critical deficit in confidence. Rodgers said: “You could see our passing was a wee bit tentative, and then we make mistakes. Mistakes you wouldn’t expect to see from a team that’s supposed to be challenging. We failed to manage the game.”

That seems a fair summation of Liverpool’s season to date: a bit tentative, far too many unforced errors, and too many games that they seem to have let drift by rather than imposing themselves on.

I’ve written before that Liverpool massively overachieved last season (and many of their rivals considerably underachieved) and this season was always going to prove a stern test of character. How many of Liverpool’s squad really thought the team would challenge for the title this season? I suspect not many.

Rodgers knows he now finds himself under pressure and that’s clear from the comments he made in the post-match interview. His team faces a huge Champions League game in midweek and anything less than a win will see the pressure intensify.

In my view the manager deserves more time, his achievements last season have earned him that along with the general improvement that has taken place in his time at the club. The injuries to Sturridge have been a huge blow but Rodgers could have compensated better by playing Balotelli and Lambert together more often.

His dealings in the transfer market have been disappointing so far and it’s unlikely that he’ll get many more transfer windows to get it right and sign the quality of player needed to make the starting 11 stronger. For now though his job should be safe and I think it will be.

Another man feeling the heat at the beginning of what looks like another winter of discontent is Arsene Wenger. There are actually quite a few similarities between the Frenchman and Rodgers: both have very clearly defined footballing philosophies, both pride themselves on the aesthetics of how their teams play, and both have struggled in the transfer market.

Arsenal’s home loss to Manchester United on Saturday saw Wenger’s detractors back out in vocal force. Piers Morgan called 606 and suggested “it’s a heartbreaking divorce, but divorce it has to be.” I don’t think anyone takes Morgan very seriously in any sphere these days, if they ever did, so I doubt Wenger will lose very much sleep over his comments.

His sleep cannot be entirely undisturbed however by the way his team is playing. The problems confronting Liverpool are equally applicable to Arsenal. The spine of Wenger’s team is soft and until he strengthens it little is likely to change at the Emirates except eventually the manager.

Wenger will always be an Arsenal legend and rightly so but I think Arsenal do now need a new boss in order to make serious progress. Dortmund’s Klopp is being heavily linked with Arsenal, and to a lesser extent Liverpool, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was managing somewhere in England by the start of next season if not sooner.

Apparently stewards removed a ‘Wenger Out’ sign during the game as they feared it would spark tensions among the crowd. That’s just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Speaking of ridiculous, one Arsenal fan found the tension so much that they threw some red wine at the Manchester United bench. Those sat there must have been glad it wasn’t a prawn sandwich projectile aimed in their direction.

Arsenal are already out of contention for the league and are very unlikely to win the Champions League. I think this will be Wenger’s last season in charge.

Another man who could use a glass of red to calm the tensions today is Ally McCoist. Rangers lost 2-0 to Hearts and are now nine points behind the Tynecastle outfit. I saw an online poll run by one Scottish newspaper which showed a clear majority suggesting that McCoist should go.

There’s not the time or space here to go into the calamity of Rangers in recent years. The club has been an omnishambles and the manager has been one of very few to emerge from the period with any credit whatsoever. He has been dragging Rangers back from the depths of Scottish football and while it has not always been pretty, so far he has got the job done.

He more than deserves the chance to try and finish the job of getting his club back into the top flight. One thing’s for sure, Jurgen Klopp will not be managing at Ibrox next season.

Wenger’s Messi transfer policy

Arsene Wenger. Photo by: Ronnie Macdonald www.flickr.com

Arsene Wenger. Photo by: Ronnie Macdonald
http://www.flickr.com

According to Arsene Wenger, Arsenal tried to sign Leo Messi when he was a 15 year old playing in Barcelona’s youth team. A bold triple deal was proposed for Messi, Fabregas and Pique. Only Fabregas made the move.

Arsenal fans may well allow themselves a moment to wonder what would have happened had the boy wonder arrived in North London. Wenger seems to make a habit of announcing signings that he could have made or tried to make. If it’s an attempt to deflect criticism from his dealings in the transfer market then it’s not proving a very successful one.

He really hasn’t bought well in recent years and has failed to spend the necessary money to bring in players that would make Arsenal truly competitive at the top of the Premier League and in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Signing Alexis Sanchez in the summer signalled some intent but bringing Fabregas back would have sent a much louder message and it would have had more of a galvanising effect on the whole club. Wellbeck has done quite well since his switch from Manchester United (and £16m looks like a reasonable price to have paid) but is he a striker that’s going to fire you to the title? I suspect not.

Wenger appears to love a bargain (you can imagine him trying to calculate the true value of the three for two offers in the supermarket) and he also has a preference for signing young players that he can develop. There’s plenty of young talent at Arsenal but as has been pointed out many times in the last few years, the side lacks a bit of experience and leadership.

What Wenger would give for a player like Gerrard. The longer a club goes without signing the very best available in the transfer market the harder it becomes. I think that’s a big part of the reason for Manchester United’s summer spending spree. Another season like last season for them and it would have been much more difficult to attract the likes of Di Maria and Falcao.

I doubt either of those players would even have considered joining Arsenal. I’m a big fan of the Arsenal boss and there’s much to admire in his footballing philosophy. Messi, I’m sure, would have enjoyed playing under him.

The January transfer window is just over a month away. Who would you like to see arrive Arsenal fans? And perhaps more importantly, who do you think is a realistic target for you right now?