• Supporters have been on his back for weeks and I have witnessed them booing after a series of underwhelming performances.
• Saints’ manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was in deep shock and just sat in the dressing room staring at his players in disbelief, not knowing what to say and believe me, there were one or two who were in tears.
The clock is ticking for Arsenal manager Unai Emery. He was originally welcomed at the Emirates by management and staff simply because he wasn’t Arsene Wenger and he has been given time to sort out the Gunner’s problems.
Regrettably, many believe that things are just as bad as when Wenger left the club in decline. Emery’s personal decision to appoint Granit Xhaka as captain has been attacked as the wrong move and astonished Arsenal supporters. Xhaka’s show of anger and contempt for fans cheering as he was substituted on Sunday was not a reaction from someone who had simply played badly.
Supporters have been on his back for weeks and I have witnessed them booing after a series of underwhelming performances. Emery has been a constant supporter of Xhaka and a critic of Mesut Ozil. Ozil’s omission from the team recently has also angered the fans and last Sunday they loudly sang his name. Booing Xhaka and cheering his removal led to the captain mouthing obscenities at the crowd and ripping off his shirt.
Fortunately, he did not throw the shirt onto the ground which would have seen him probably thrown out of the club however he refused to shake the manager’s hand as he walked off to the dressing room. The fact that he walked very slowly off the pitch when Arsenal were pushing to score the winning goal, in the final minutes of the match, displayed the actions of a player who should not be captain. Xhaka did have support from several of the Arsenal players and some of them visited his house to show him support.
It was also pointed out to me at the club that Xhaka is frequently the first to arrive at the training ground despite becoming a father recently and he is a strong figure in the dressing room which is one of the reasons the manager chose him as captain. After the game Emery spent ten minutes talking with owner Stan Kroenke’s son Josh who decided to leave the management of the incident to his manager.
It is generally felt around the Emirates that Emery has not sorted out Arsenal’s problems internally despite them being only four points behind the top four in the Premier League. Arsenal has a get-out clause in Emery’s contract which comes into force next summer and if things do not improve he will likely be fighting for his job.
Brazilian David Luiz is a born leader in the dressing room and on the pitch and despite his occasional mistakes he is a terrific player and when I talked to many of the Arsenal fans it was clear he is the man they would like to captain the team. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the natural successor being vice-captain. Arsenal fans long for a return to the invincible days of Patrick Vieira in the heart of the defence, David Dein in the boardroom and Arsene Wenger when he was at his best. The Gunners are a long way from that and supporters think the current management board with Emery as manager is not the answer.
Now I can share with Southampton fans
For many of you who have followed this column over the last few years you might be aware that I am a Suffolk boy from the eastern part of England and I support Ipswich Town. (No laughter please!)
It has always been my shame that the Premier League record for the biggest win (or loss from my point of view) was Manchester United 9 Ipswich 0. Now I can share my embarrassment with Southampton fans who had to sit through their 9-0 humiliation to in-form Leicester City.
Saints’ manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was in deep shock and just sat in the dressing room staring at his players in disbelief, not knowing what to say and believe me, there were one or two who were in tears. It was right for the team to each donate a days wages to charity as an apology to the poor suffering fans.
For Hasenhuttl the next few weeks will decide his fate and a call from my Southampton contact yesterday informed me that the board have already put together a list of possible replacements for the manager and heading that list is ex-Fulham and Wales manager Chris Coleman who last managed a Premier League team in 2007 at Fulham’s Craven Cottage.
Mahrez is a better player
Ryad Mahrez was talking this week about the shock he received when he joined Manchester City for his first training session after his £60m transfer from Leicester. Instead of team efforts, team support on the pitch and trying to hit opponents in counter-attacks, suddenly he was thrust into a much heavier work rate.
Pep Guardiola believes in intense, fast play, pressuring opponents by giving them no time on the ball and playing the ball out from the back with every player giving 100% energy on or off the ball. At Leicester, it was all so much easier and Mahrez found the changes as hard work.
Now he feels he is much fitter, more in tune with what Guardiola expects and his work rate has increased significantly as he races from attack to help in defence and vice versa. He admits it has made him a better and more complete player and has lifted him into Guardiola’s weekly plans instead of starting from the bench.
Grealish getting better and better
The player most talked about in the Premier League at the moment is Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. Since being given the honour of captaining the side, the 24-year-old has gone from strength to strength and is now commanding the attention of England manager Gareth Southgate.
Grealish joined Villa as a boy of six and has spent his entire career at Filbert Street which included brief loan spell at Notts County. Manager Dean Smith says, “He covers more ground than most players and is also one of our fastest runners.” Smith reflected on a 60-yard dash back to dispossess a player in the Leicester penalty box. Total commitment from Jack is how he earned the captaincy and the attacking midfielder will undoubtedly make his England debut some time soon.
Time for referees to watch VAR on the pitch
A meeting long overdue is scheduled for Premier League chairmen to discuss changing the rules surrounding VAR. The faceless side of VAR has left fans confused, bewildered and angry with decisions made from many miles away by a group of unknown people sitting in a TV studio.
There have been 26 overturned decisions in 100 Premier League matches this season but not once has the on-pitch referee consulted the pitchside monitor. On November 14th VAR will be at the head of the Premier League agenda. Several clubs feel they have been on the wrong end of a VAR decision and if the referee had consulted the monitor and watched the replay action he/she might well have come to a different decision.
At present referees have been advised to leave the decisions to the VAR team watching their monitors but this is likely to change in the near future with the match referee taking the lead position in any decisions made.
Real and Barca eye up Sterling
Only twelve months ago Manchester City superstar Raheem Sterling put his signature on a new contract worth £250k a week. Now the word is that in the upcoming transfer window, which is only just over nine weeks away, La Liga super clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona will be making noises to sign Sterling.
Real have never replaced Cristiano Renaldo and Barcelona are going a little cold on re-signing Neymar. Losing Sterling would be a disaster for City and with David Silva and Sergio Aguero coming to the end of their careers he will be even more vital to the team. Sterling has scored 13 goals in 14 matches which is no mean feat in today’s modern game.
City owner Sheikh Mansour and his Dubai based billions of dollars will, therefore, look to renegotiate Raheem’s contract again and it is probable that he will become football’s highest earner on over £500k a week. As Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said last weekend, after he saw his team lose 3-0, “Sterling isn’t just special he is unstoppable.”
The City ground, the Etihad is a good Premier League ground but it lacks the atmosphere of Real’s Bernabeu or Barca’s Camp Nou with its 100,000 crowd of supporters. The Spanish teams could well come for Sterling who is football’s most exciting young player and City are preparing to fight to keep him.
Chelsea’s loan system pays dividends
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard believes the latest group of young players have come into the first team so strongly because of the club’s loan system. Chelsea have more players on their books than most clubs and their policy is to loan many of them to Championship and European teams to gain experience.
Tammy Abraham has nine goals in 12 starts for the Blues and he played a total of 78 on loan games for Bristol City and Aston Villa and 31 Premier League matches for Swansea. Mount, Tomori and Tuanzebe were also loaned out. Tomori played 30 times for Villa and Pereira appeared 58 times in La Liga in Spain. Lampard’s policy is to loan out the players and then send scouts regularly to monitor their progress.