1st or 2nd - Does it matter really?

By Ian Henry

Wenger should field a shadow team for the game in Basel

Arsenalís traditional poor November continues; true, we remain undefeated but we canít hold a lead for long, let alone win. Of our four goals in the last three games, two were own goals, one a penalty and one scored in the 89th minute of a game we probably should have lost. We are still in all competitions, so credit where it is due, but the team is stuttering up front, sterile in the middle and Ė based on the PSG performance Ė jittery at best at the back.

Now is the time when management comes to the fore and Wenger has to do something which I have not seen him do for a long time, if ever: he has to be realistic, pragmatic and honest.

First, the realistic bit: forget about topping the CL group; while winning in Basel should be something a club of Arsenalís pretensions would take in its stride, itís likely to be rather academic. PSG will almost certainly beat Ludogorets, as even Cavani canít be so profligate again. So in Basel in two weeks, leave Ozil, Sanchez, Koscielny and Mustafi behind, and Coquelin too. What remains in the squad should be capable of getting the draw to ensure self-respect.

Second, the pragmatic bit; we have three winnable PL games and a League Cup game before the trip to Man City; so use the squad. Rest Sanchez, send him away for some sun, or at least leave him on the bench against Bournemouth and Stoke, may be West Ham too. Maybe do something similar with Ozil. Time to say to Ramsey, Giroud, Theo, Xhaka and the Ox: now is your time to carry the team. If they canít, then we know they are not good enough (to clarify Ė I donít think many of them are good enough, but some people Ė including the manager Ė do).

Third, the honest bit: tell the fans what you are doing and why. But please donít play Sanchez and Ozil in the next three PL games and in Basel; do that and one or other of them will do a Cazorla and miss a huge chunk of the season. As our esteemed editor mused to me the other day Ė he doesnít expect to see Cazorla back for a long time, if at all. Sanchez is surely playing on the edge, so he needs management, not a busted hamstring.

And finally, a bit more honesty and realism about the CL round of 16. As things stand, we are more likely than not going to finish second, so we could meet one of: Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, one of Real Madrid or Dortmund, almost certainly Juve and one of Napoli/Benfica/Besiktas. To me, that means two options with no hope of progressing (Barca and Dortmund or Real), three where a team of Arsenalís pretensions should win (Atletico, Monaco and Juve) and one (Napoli/Benfica/Besiktas) where if they canít win, we might as well give up. I make that a one in three chance of an impossible draw. Before you all scream at me, I am not saying we would beat Atletico, Monaco or Juve, but if we canít then why are we bothering with the CL at all?

By contrast winning the group would give us the possibilities of Bayern, Leverkusen, Dortmund or Real, Porto (or possibly Copenhagen), Seville or Lyon and one of Napoli/Benfica/Besiktas. Again that is two possibilities against teams I canít see this Arsenal team beating, i.e. Bayern or Dortmund/Real Madrid, two tricky ties (Leverkusen and Seville/Lyon) and one of Napoli/Benfica/Besiktas and Porto or possibly Copenhagen; the latter two options should be easily within Arsenalís capabilities, and while Leverkusen and Seville are also the sort of teams Arsenal ought to beat, Leverkusen have got past Spurs (which we canít do these days) and Sevilleís European savviness would likely be too much for us. Finishing first might give us a slightly easier route, but I am not sure it makes any difference.

Wenger needs to be pragmatic, accept that second is likely, and manage his squad properly, resting players ahead of bigger games where he can. We need Perez and Debuchy back to fill out the squad (Jenkinson cannot play all the games while Bellerin is out), we need to use Holding, Gabriel, Xhaka, Elneny and the Ox to rest others, we need to hope Ozil and Sanchez stay fit and get Cazorla and Welbeck back. This being Arsenal, however, we know that someone will get injured in training, someone else will have an injury recovery setback and the same players will get played too much and get injured. It happens every year and itíll likely happen again, no matter how much we hope it wonít.

And to the man in row 14 in the Upper Tier in block 134 who told me in a most dismissive ďyou donít know what youíre talking aboutĒ tone that goal difference mattered before head to head results in the CL, I look forward to that apology on Sunday.

Edís note Ė Quick plug for a free talk on Monday evening at Birkbeck College, given by author of the newly updated ArsŤnal - The Making of a Modern Superclub, Alex Fynn, on the subject of ďArsenal, ArsŤne, David Dein and meĒ. Although all welcome, you need to register in advance Ė full details here.

25th November 2016 09:00:00


Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

Exeter Gunner  9:34am 25th Nov 2016

All sounds sensible, but we all know Wenger will carry on the same way until players break, and he then won't think it's anything to do with him, just all bad luck and external forces. This is why November is always bad, this is why the same mistakes are repeated every season - Wenger doesn't see the connection between his actions and anything that goes wrong. Nor do the AKBs. - Post No. 100634

chris dee  9:44am 25th Nov 2016

Yes lot's of permutations and player rotation. Just a shame it won't win us the Premiership or god forbid,the Champions League.But musn't get to upset as it's Arsene's last season. - Post No. 100635

GS  9:44am 25th Nov 2016

1st or 2nd makes no difference, we are meant to be a top European side ( according to the balance sheet) yet we are fearful of meeting Barca,Real, BM etc, what a joke. We should be feared, but due to Wenger, we have become a soft touch over the last 10seasons and there is no sign of change until he decides to leave. The mentality of the team and the inferior players bought are all down to one man, and whichever side of the fence you sit ( WOB or AKB) that is FACT, and will only change when he leaves. Put a strong manager in the Tec area and see if he stands for any nonsense from our prima-donna's, awarding mega contacts to 10goal a season players who have no ambition, not to mention players kept on when they are permanently injured. The whole thing is a Joke , led by the chief clown a certain Mr Wenger. - Post No. 100636

Tony Evans  9:53am 25th Nov 2016

All sound stuff, Ian - fancy a football management job - only for a paltry £8M quid a year mind! Meanwhile the present incumbent will continue in his usual fashion - a cross somewhere between Messer's Magoo and Bumble. - Post No. 100637

Dartford gooner  10:34am 25th Nov 2016

Ian what makes you think Arsene will change now. He will carry on doing the same thing he always does. Same why of playing same players no matter who we are playing. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel every season but it gets dimmer and dimmer. Wengers candle is flickering someone please blow it out - Post No. 100640

bba  10:45am 25th Nov 2016

GS. Who at Arsenal stated we were fearful of the mighty clubs in Europe that you quote. It's the small, negative fanbase like yourself that is fearful. Crying and whining gets you nowhere. Grow some and get behind the team. - Post No. 100641

GS  10:53am 25th Nov 2016

bba : Read my post again, then read your leaders quotes saying that if we finish 1st we get an easier game in last 16 ... really ?? - Don't matter who we meet, Arsenal under Wenger are clueless both in CL & PL...what im saying is we should be strong enough to play & beat whoever we meet, be it Barca, Real, BM etc. Best thing you can do, is wake up , smell the coffee and realise Wenger has lead us to oblivion for the last 10 seasons, while earning £8m pa, with very little to show for it ( 2 FA cups noted - Wigan & Portsmouth have won 1 each in that time)...Get real, take off your Wenger tinted glasses and see things for how they really are....In Wenger We Rust. - Post No. 100642

HighburyBoy  13:09pm 25th Nov 2016

Home advantage in the 2nd leg is the key factor you ignore. - Post No. 100643

Tony Evans  13:11pm 25th Nov 2016

Can anyone explain to me what is going on with Granit Xhaka? Wenger parts company with £34 big ones for him, and then picks Elneny, Ramsey or Coquelin ahead of him, more often than not. Xhaka was one of our best players v the Spuds (not difficult I know) and then not to start him against Man U and PSG is surely utter madness. With Cazorla out at the moment, the obvious solution must be Xhaka, but not, it would seem, in the mad world of Arsene Wenger! - Post No. 100644

Bonzo  13:14pm 25th Nov 2016

GS - BBA is Jamerson so you might as well reply to 'Jamerson' . Fatboy Jamee is obsessed about ball size, often equating devotion to Wenger as a sign of gonad size. He's always saying grow some as well. A big giveaway. I suspect Jamee has actually got a shrivelled pair due to his constant projecting of ball waggling. It's one of Jamee's many and varied issues. - Post No. 100645

Bard  13:14pm 25th Nov 2016

Ian a well written article but to me it reads like a childs Christmas letter to Santa Claus. What you say makes perfect sense but it isnt going to happen as you well know. The same things could be said about the last 10 seasons. I would go further and suggest that qualifying for the CL is merely a cash issue. The club have no intention of investing with a view to winning the thing. Its all PR for those fans stupid enough to believe that the club actually want to win anything. This season's main aim from a board point of view is to do well enough to sign up Wenger for another stint without incurring the wrath of the fans. For that we need a plucky stab at the CL, a decent effort in the Prem and maybe a good run in the Cup. The rest is just PR tosh. - Post No. 100646

GS  13:30pm 25th Nov 2016

HighburyBoy : Fair point ref 2nd Leg at home, so, with that reasoning, if you finish 2nd and play your 1st Leg at home, should you not win the game to nil to assist when you go away in the 2nd Leg, remind me when Arsenal last did this? Home advantage does not seem to assist Arsenal & Wenger in anyway. We finish 1st, play 1st Leg away, can we really finish the job at home in 2nd Leg, who ever we meet ??...Like Bard says, is all Smoke & Mirrors to bring in the Wonga for Wenger....YKIMS - Post No. 100648

Arseneknewbest  14:16pm 25th Nov 2016

A good manager would be following many of Ian's sensible points and telling those under-achievers on the fringes of the squad - walnutt included - that they're playing for their futures ahead of the January window. But that's as likely as wengo being relieved of his duties any time soon. To support the points in this piece, ask yourself, "what would Klopp do?" and you have the answer. Anyone know if our diminutive nicotine-fingered loanee is allowed to play against us this weekend? - Post No. 100649

Paulo75  14:32pm 25th Nov 2016

Time for the squad to show some balls and get us convincingly back to winning ways. An emphatic performance and result required to banish the disappointment of recent weeks. As for 1st or 2nd place in the CL I really don't think it matters this year - not much between the two in terms of potential opposition. Just sick of the sight of Barcelona.... - Post No. 100650

Ron  15:00pm 25th Nov 2016

No. It never matters. This yr, last yr, next yr, whatever yr you want. AFC and Wenger couldn't give a flying fook as long as they're through the group. - Post No. 100652

mbg  15:04pm 25th Nov 2016

He can't field and coach a proper first team so he'll hardly be capable of doing it to a second one, but as the result doesn't matter i don't suppose that matters either. wenger out. - Post No. 100653

Cyril  15:14pm 25th Nov 2016

Paulo: Agreed. Can't bear the torture of Barca any longer. It goes back to 1999 for me. Had really hopes at Wembley that night after a 1 all draw previous month. I had to pick my chin up off the floor after that 4-2 defeat. They had Puyol in the squad and a certain Mr Xavi. He must Benjamin Button. Anyway, class of Enrique, Figo and Rivaldo evident. It did strike me how easily we were being picked off even with that great side. Would I ever have thought that Wenger may have lacked some tactical nous at that time ? . No. But looking back now when it comes to the highest level ...... - Post No. 100654

mbg  15:29pm 25th Nov 2016

Wenger be honest ? in any way ? cough, ha ha, hee hee, ho ho, lol, he doesn't know the meaning of the word. - Post No. 100655

Tony Evans  15:30pm 25th Nov 2016

We're all resigned to it by now aren't we. First or second in the group matters not a jot because we all know the fate awaiting us sooner or later - an exit at the hands of Barca, Bayern or similar. Hope has disappeared over the horizon - I just wish Wenger would, and take some of his indulged little darling players with him. - Post No. 100656

GS  15:35pm 25th Nov 2016

Cyril- batistuta gave us the runaround as well- the writing was on the wall way back ( galatasary anyone) , but with the odd PL & double to hide his shortcomings he has rode the gravy train too long and does not know how to get off. - Post No. 100657

John F  17:55pm 25th Nov 2016

Tony,as soon as xhaka was sent off against Swansea I thought Wenger would punish him.He does not trust his temperament even though he came with that reputation having been sent off eight times.I like him and feel he should be given a chance after all Wenger preserved with Viera who was often taking an early bath.X haka is also known for being a bit verbal with his teamates and was made captain at BM not sure Wenger likes a strong character either. - Post No. 100658

mbg  19:14pm 25th Nov 2016

ArseneKnewBest, and any manager worth his salt would listen to and take advice from his assistant, and/or make sure he had a good assistant in place in the first place who he could take advice from and turn to on occasions (and look at all the greats who have)instead of a nodding dog yes man) but no, not this old arrogant egoistic waste of space he listens to no one, takes advice from no one, will not be told what to do by anyone such is his arrogance, he'll just bumble on and on. wenger out now. - Post No. 100659

Arseneknewbest  19:46pm 25th Nov 2016

mbg - spot on. From the backroom staff to the board to the players to akbs with blind faith, wengo seems to hold all of them in his thrall. It's all so anaesthetised that everyone now sounds like a spin-machine supporting the chihuahua at all costs. No truth, no integrity and no future. The club is in the hands of f*ckwits, and is partially supported by even bigger f*ckwits like Jamee son. A recipe for disaster. - Post No. 100660

mbg  19:46pm 25th Nov 2016

Well come on then own up, who was the AKB face timing his girlfriend/wife during the game ? (any ideas?)who can blame him I suppose, there was nothing else to do, hey honey no need to watch the game our messiah has everything under control, oh my God honey he's looking up, hey arsene, hello, we love you. - Post No. 100661

bba  21:08pm 25th Nov 2016

Bonzo. You appear to know everything about everything but in theory you know **** all. Whilst I am fully aware of Jamerson, please, for the record, I am not and never will be him. Your rash and adjective comments only pour fire on your pathetic, naive persona that is perfect for a fool whom tells the world he is a gooner but seems a little bit interested in dragging comments about your own inadequacies. Let the egg throwing commence - Post No. 100662

Arseneknewbest  21:13pm 25th Nov 2016

Jamee - "adjective comments" What the fook are you crapping on about jamee or jamee-bba the amoeba? Get back to the caravan fisting you muppet. - Post No. 100663

bba  22:03pm 25th Nov 2016

And there you have it. Listeners will listen, gooners will debate and people like AKB, shut down and revert back to type. Sad really. - Post No. 100664

Bonzo  23:57pm 25th Nov 2016

BBA - the Moderator has confirmed your Jamerson. You may not be aware of this, I get this. The Three Faces of Eve film famously covered this very same multiple personality disorder. Worth a view and possibly time to adjust your meds. - Post No. 100665

Arseneknewbest  23:57pm 25th Nov 2016

jamee-bba - it'll be a cold day in your own personal deviant dante-esque hell when you get the better of me, ficko. How's that for "adjective comments" - Post No. 100666

Bonzo  6:34am 26th Nov 2016

Jamee / BBA, I will say again, accept your sexual orientation. Try not to hurt others with your extreme impulses and seek therapy or maybe voluntary reporting to the Police if you are acting out what you call deviant behaviour against unwilling parties. - Post No. 100668

Professor Yaffle  12:31pm 26th Nov 2016

Jamee is a sex freak. FACT - Post No. 100675

Arseneknewbest  15:29pm 26th Nov 2016

...and a cnut, Professor Yaffle. We might as well call it as it is. I'd give him a kicking any day of the week, and I can also out-do him on the violent metaphors if he wants to start. He's nothing but a caravan coward. - Post No. 100678

Professor Yaffle  15:42pm 26th Nov 2016

Scientific studies have shown that the most religiously intolerant and prejudiced members of society tend to have the lowest IQ's. I therefore conclude Jamie is as thick as mice. - Post No. 100679

Professor Yaffle  16:53pm 26th Nov 2016

After some careful experimentation involving a maze and some mice. I now believe the mice have greater intuitive intelligence than Jamee who appears to be low IQ'd anal retentive. - Post No. 100682

Mark from Aylesbury  9:23am 27th Nov 2016

I see Untold is covering what is a very serious breaking story of Crewe. Attwood is doing the whole country is going to the dogs routine. When it is far more of a case of lack of controls in many sports in countries across the Globe causing misery and creating opportunities for abusers. Some contributors are trying desperately to get people to keep to the point whereas as the majority are rambling about government conspiracies and ancient Greeks. Old Attwood really does unleash conspiracy freeks upon the world. No need to worry though as they all love Wengo. - Post No. 100687

Issue #269 - Out Now!

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16th February 2018

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