Arsenal legend turns on Wenger as Mourinho bites back - It's our weekend Premier League review
The 17th round of Premier League matches were always likely to be pivotal in shaping a title race that is looking rapidly one-sided in favour of runaway leaders Chelsea, yet it was Arsenal’s week from hell that dominated the weekend analysis.
MORE OF THE SAME FOR ARSENAL
“I don’t think it looks any different this year to last. Are we surprised? It has been the same story for 12 years and more now.”
The words of Arsenal legend Paul Merson were echoed by millions of Arsenal fans around the world, as their side meekly surrendered to a second defeat of a week that has apparently confirmed the latest campaign of hope promoted by Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is destined to end with familiar despair.
The manner of their 2-1 defeat against Manchester City was almost more galling than the result itself, with a feeble second half display seeing Wenger’s marquee names Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil go missing in action as City came from behind to secure what developed into a pretty comfortable win.
12yrs of pathetic excuses, yet still Arsenal fans buy into Wenger's BS. I'm so done with him, in case I hadn't made this clear. afc— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) December 18, 2016
Against a City side that have had their confidence rocked recent weeks, Arsenal did what they tend to do when the pressure is applied against their chief rivals at the top of the table…namely disappear as an attacking force and crumble to an all-too predictable defeat.
On the back of their 2-1 defeat at Everton last Tuesday, the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade have been in full vocal voice over the last 24 hours, yet Merson suspects the manager he played under in his final days at Arsenal will remain in charge for many years to come.
“I think they will give him a new contract and I see him being there for many more years. He will decide when he wants to go and let’s be honest, who is there to go for now?
“For me, he should have turned around many years ago and said the time was right to step aside. That was especially the case last year with all these top managers that were available at the time.
“Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Ronald Koeman, even Jose Mourinho…they were all available. He should have gone to the board and said I’ve had my time, you have to go and get one of these managers. These could take up to another step and they are all world-class managers in my opinion and have not been sacked too often between all of them.
“If Wenger was to go now, who could they go for? There are not too many top managers about now. That means Wenger will probably stay on and sign another contract.”
How many times can Arsenal fans debate the merits of a club and a team that have been crying out for a fresh voice of inspiration for far too long? It is a question that has been asked far too often since their last title Premier League win since 2004, but don’t expect an answer any time soon.
Wenger’s thirst for power and his determination to defy his doubters appears to be stronger than ever, even if he continues to preside over a story that has the same ending year after year.
MOURINHO’S JIGSAW CLICKING INTO PLACE
The immediacy of modern football fans and, to an extent, the media engine that fuels their opinions were quick to turn on Jose Mourinho as his reign as Manchester United took time to ignite, but the pessimism has been replaced by optimism in recent weeks.
As his increasingly confident team secured a convincing 2-0 win at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday evening, the United master plan appeared to be crystalising from the fog that had descended over the club in the previous three months.
Paul Pogba is starting to come to the fore, Mourinho has stumbled across a defensive line featuring Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones that appears to have cohesion and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is answer all of his doubters by bagging goals at a rate that is not normal for a 35-year-old striker.
The 1-0 win against Tottenham earlier this month may well be reflected upon as the turning point in a United story that suddenly appears to have the potential to fire them towards a top four finish in the Premier League and maybe even a drop of cup success for Mourinho in his first season at the helm.
Writing off this serial winner of a manager was always a dangerous game and as the visiting fans sang his name with increasing gusto at the Hawthorns on Saturday, it was clear that Mourinho’s United train is finally rolling with positive intent.
TIME FOR A MOVE SHANE?
Shane Long was again handed a watching brief by Southampton manager Claude Puel as he rang the changes in his team and got a positive result as his side wrapped up a 3-1 win at Bouremouth on Sunday.
Republic of Ireland striker Long got taste of the action at the Vitality Stadium, as he was thrown on in the third minute of injury time to eat up some seconds as Southampton counted down to a fine away win on a day when Jay Rodriguez moved ahead of Long in the queue for a spot in Puel’s first team.
This is not quite the script Shane had in mind when he signed his new contract last summer and with Southampton looking to shake-up their squad in the January transfer window, Long may emerge as a player who is surplus to requirements.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill will need his first choice striker to be playing regularly in the first half of 2017 and if the current trend continues, Long is unlikely to get that at Southampton.
TWITTER PAYS RESPECT TO ILKAY GUNDOGAN
Twitter exploded with confusion on Sunday as Manchester City players took to the field for their game against Arsenal collectively wearing No.8 shirts in tribute to their team-mate Ilkay Gundogan.
This practice is normally reserved for footballers who have passed away, yet Gundogan has merely injured his knee and will be back in action at some point in 2017.
This bizarre gesture from City’s star names inspired a predictably jovial reaction on Twitter, as sarcastic tributes were paid to Gundogan:
RIP Ilkay Gundogan, he was a good man. pic.twitter.com/HqWqY74xcu— WeAreChelseaFC (@WeAreChelseaFC) December 18, 2016
INDEPENDENT.IE TEAM OF THE WEEK
Jordan Pickford (Sunderland)
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Danny Rose (Tottenham)
Marcis Rojo (Man United)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Paul Pogba (Man United)
Steven Davis (Southampton)
Alvaro Negrego (Middlesbrough)
Diego Costa (Chelsea)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United)