Whither Wenger? That 2-2 draw with Manchester City in which both sides looked curiously fallible and the Gunners were lucky to achieve, didn’t really tell us much.
Over the weekend it was learned that Ivan Gazidis, the chief executive, had come you might say halfway off the fence to state that were Wenger to stay there must be “significant changes” this summer. But what would that be? Wenger says Gazidis must be a “catalyst for change…the final decision must be mutual”.
Results over the next couple of months could decide. Wenger says he can “reinvent himself” . But do leopards change their spots? The directors’ chorus have at long last moved slowly to some kind of independence. Thousands of Arsenal fans want Wenger to go; and after more than two decades what realistic hope is there of “reinvention”?
Meanwhile, both Alexis Sanchez, irreplaceable, and Mesut Ozil, who dodged the column where he surely should have challenged, shot and scored against Man City, are on their way. One hopes more than ever that the Gunners will have the sense to recall Jack Wilshere from his loan at Bournemouth. Whose manager Eddie Howe eulogised last weekend after bringing him on as a second-half sub who changed the game. No one, as the Romans said, is a hero in his own country and there does seem to be reason to think that Wilshere is underrated at Arsenal maybe because he is that rarity, a placer actually developed there from boyhood.
At Stanford Bridge, I watched Crystal Palace achieve that extraordinary win against Chelsea and could only admire Sam Allardyce, though never my favourite manager, for the transformation he has worked there… not just tactically but in terms of sheer morale. True Palace owed a huge debt to the heroics to their keeper Wayne Hennessey and Chelsea arguably deserved a draw, but Palace, a team who would have given up the ghost before Allardyce arrived, are now definitely resilient. Though it would arguably have been a traversty, Wilfried Zaha could and should have given them a 3-1 lead. Having sensibly and predictably committed himself to the country of his birth, Ivory Coast, whom days earlier he had inspired, scoring a fine goal, to victory in Russia, he is showing the importance of that once absurdly spurned breed, the winger.
Chelsea? No doubt they will go on to win the Premiership but it is worth remembering how large an advantage has it surely been that they did not have to engage in Europe.
Talking of Bournemouth’s draw at Southampton, I thought the Press at large was extremely unfair to Bournemouth’s Harry Arter, accused of a flagrant missed penalty, which he booted over the bar. Some excuse perhaps for the reporters who filed for Sunday but not surely for those who should have had time to study televisión evidence of how, just as he was taking the spot kick, the penalty spot itself shifted and sagged. And not seemingly for the first time.
A fascinating sequence of photographs in the Daily Mail suggests that we may have been wrong all along to describe how Stanley Matthews on the right wing mesmorised generations of full-backs. We were led to believe that he put the opposing left back on the wrong foot by bending inwards, only to flick the ball away from him with the outside of his right foot. “Don’t ask me how I do it,” he once said. “It simply comes out of me under pressure.”
But this photo sequence shows Matthews flicking the ball up with his right toe, nudging it forward with his left knee, and not then “off towards goal” as the Mail caption says, but away up the right wing. To end with the most enticingly exact of crosses, so many of which would be headed home.
Recent research on brain damage – affecting the likes of Ray Wilson, Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and of course poor Jeff Astle – suggests that the only way to avoid it, whatever the statistics, is to ban heading; worldwide. And when it that ever going to happen?
For schoolboys of my generation Matthews was a godlike figure. It was reckoned that whenever he come to play for Blackpool in London he would put 10,000 on the gate. It was a privilege to spend time with him the week the he went back to Stoke City in his late 40s. He even took me out to lunch. And in Stoke’s dressing room before his ensuing debut, he was too nervous to talk. Incomparable.