• The value of the Champions League is highlighted by Manchester United’s news that their operating profits fell by 17% in the last quarter of 2019.
• The Arsenal revolution continues under Arteta and even Shkodran Mustafi has shown a new lease of life.
Mikel Arteta was pleased with his three wins in eight days but is concerned about the lack of concentration in Arsenal’s defence, which gifted Everton two goals in their last match. Arteta pointed out that for 65 minutes, his team played exactly how they had practiced, producing positive flowing football.
However, he also said that only a good performance from goalkeeper Bernd Leno secured the win but at the end of the game, Leno is quoted as saying that although he made a mistake and Richarlison scored, it didn’t matter because Arsenal won 3-2. Arteta was quick to pick up on Leno’s comment criticising his words that ‘it didn’t matter’ and he is determined to improve the mentality and the way his players respond to whatever happens during a game. Arteta said it is all about focus and attitude. His other priority at the moment is to convince Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to sign a new contract as his current £200,000 a year deal runs out next year. Both Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, who has just over 24 months left on his contract, have said they will only stay with Arsenal if they qualify for the Champions League although the latter seemed to backtrack on Thursday.
Profits down at United but Solskjaer staying
The value of the Champions League is highlighted by Manchester United’s news that their operating profits fell by 17% in the last quarter of 2019. This is almost entirely due to not competing in the competition and therefore United did not share in the big broadcasting revenues. Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward did, however, take the opportunity to publicly state that the club is 100% behind manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer which means he will almost certainly be at the club next year to carry on with what United call their ‘vision of the future’.
Bailly upset at his treatment from Solskjaer
The future of Eric Bailly at Manchester United is in doubt. The 25 year-old played after a long knee injury lay off and gave a first class display against Chelsea with United coming away from Stamford Bridge with a 2-0 win. Bailly was then dismayed when he was dropped from the team for the match against Watford last weekend and he was doubly upset because Solskjaer gave him no warning or explanation. Bailly is now considering his long term future at the club and Arsenal, Tottenham and several Spanish clubs have shown interest in buying him. The Ivory Coast international has asked for a meeting with Solskjaer to get to the bottom of his treatment. A poll taken by a local Manchester newspaper showed that nine out of 10 fans wanted Bailly in the team but Solskjaer preferred Victor Lindelof who was drafted straight back into first team duty team following an injury.
Taking his opportunity
Burnley manager Sean Dyche has a luxury of strikers at the moment which is one reason why the team is sitting 10th in the table, having notched up four wins and a draw in their last five matches. The latest to break through into the first team is Czech striker Matej Vydra. He is only in the team because of injuries to Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood but he has linked up so well with Jay Rodriguez and it is going to be very difficult for Dyche to leave him out when they return to fitness. Dyche said this week: “I’m really pleased that Matej has come in and done well because he has waited patiently for his chance. He has connected well with other players and put in a lot of hard work in training and his finishing is very impressive.”
Bruce lines up Gale to score goals
Newcastle manager Steve Bruce tried to buy striker Dwight Gale three times during his career at other clubs. As fate would have it, when Bruce arrived at St Jame’s Park, Gale was injured and has not been available for much of this season. This week, Bruce admitted that after the defeat to Crystal Palace, he needs to rethink his striking strategy and Gale’s return to fitness gives the pair the opportunity to work closely together in search for goals which have been, sadly, lacking from the current forward line. Bruce said: “Unfortunately, since the day I walked into the club he had a calf injury which never got and better. Then he did his hamstring. Dwight is a very good player and natural goalscorer and it would be great if he is available for the rest of the season.”
Mustafi on his Arsenal career and friend Oil
The Arsenal revolution continues under Arteta and even Shkodran Mustafi has shown a new lease of life. Under previous manager, Unai Emery, Mustafi was surplus to requirements and the manager even went public saying that it would be a positive move if he found another team to play for. Mustafi admits that he lost confidence under Emery but now he says things are different. He has also regained his relationship with the fans, who turned against him last season. He said: “It is always good to have a relationship with the fans and when you play well they appreciate your performances. It is easier to play with the fans supporting you.” He spoke this week, on the training field, about his close friend Ozil. The German also endured a difficult time under the previous manager and even considered leaving. I know that his agents were looking at the American MLS as a way out. However, under Mikel things have changed and there are positive signs for the playmaker who helped Germany win the World Cup in 2014 and was a star at Real Madrid. Mustafi said in a break from training: “I knew him before his time at Arsenal and I know what he is capable of. For him, the change of the boss helped him and other players. The difference is that the players know what job they are expected to do and we do not have to run around worrying about how others are playing. We want to play attacking football and it suits Mesut. He enjoys himself and when he is playing like he has in the last few games it is good for all the team.” Arteta’s refreshing coaching and strategies has given Gunner’s fans new hope for the future.
Race for fourth place hots up
It is more or less certain that Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester will occupy the top three places in the Premier League this season but the battle for fourth has become a race for the finishing line. All the teams involved seem to be dropping points like holding a hot saucepan and have won only 14 of their past 35 matches between them. Chelsea are currently fourth with Manchester United and Tottenham just behind them. But then come a crop of exciting and under-rated clubs who are capable of beating any team, other than Liverpool, at the moment. Sheffield United, Wolves, a rejuvenated Arsenal and even Burnley and Everton are all in the mix. The race to the end of the season promises to be the best yet. The battle is, of course, even more important because if Manchester City are not allowed to compete in the Champions League, there will be an extra place for one of those teams to go to Europe.
More protests from Hammer’s fans
I have kept you informed of the discontent from West Ham fans who want a change of club ownership. When David Sullivan and David Gold bought the original Olympic Stadium and moved home from the famous Upton Park they promised a world class team in a world class stadium. Both promises have failed miserably with the team struggling against relegation while the stadium has been a dismal failure too, lacking atmosphere with the crowd too far from the action. I watched the game against Liverpool on Monday and West Ham fans let off hundreds of black balloons as a protest against Gold and Sullivan. Banners were unfurled and passed around the visitor’s end of Anfield carrying messages for the West Ham owners: ‘Clowns managing a circus! and ‘Karen Brady, you’re fired! in reference to the Chief Executive. We all expected a ritual slaughter of West Ham and both Sullivan and Gold decided not to attend the game in case the crowd turned on them. In fact, things turned out quite differently and Liverpool received a fright, narrowly scraping a 3-2 win. West Ham fans abandoned their hate against the owners and took to being humorous ways as they chanted: “We’re going to win the league” which brought smiles all around the ground and they also chanted: “Can we play you every week” as they tasted delight instead of the usual misery. This game proved that West Ham do have the players and talent to move out of the relegation zone or the fans discontent with the owners will only get worse.
Gomez returns in style
When Andres Gomez was stretchered off with a fractured and dislocated ankle following a tackle by Spur’s forward Son Hueng-Min most of us feared he would not play again this season. Many Everton players were in tears in the dressing room such was the extent of the injury. Remarkably, Gomez recovered quickly but manager Carlo Ancelotti was worried he was being pushed too soon. Before Everton’s match against Arsenal at the weekend, he sat down with his player and discussed the possibility of him starting. Gomez was up for it but in hindsight, Ancelotti decided that he would introduce him back into the team gradually and placed him on the substitutes bench. Ancelotti need not have worried because when Gomez came on for the last half hour against the Gunners, he was Everton’s best player. Ancelotti intends to start him this weekend against Manchester United, if everything goes well.