Arsene Wenger will soon celebrate 20 years in charge of Arsenal, though in recent years his decision making has come under scrutiny.
Hardly had Arsene Wenger publicly eulogised Jack Wilshere last Saturday than Wilshere himself made his debut for Bournemouth and quite clearly had every intention of staying there at least for this season, on loan. The midfielder praised his new and much younger manager than Wenger, Eddie Howe, from whom he said, for all his talents, that he could learn.
Wenger had been almost euphoric about Wilshere, saying that he saw him as not only a future captain of Arsenal, but even as a future manager. Somewhat surprising even to those who have long admired the midfielder, that extreme rarity, actually developed by the Gunners, who he joined as a nine-year-old. But off the field where he has been involved in various embarrassing incidents, hardly a role model.
True, Wilshere made scant impact for England in the recent Euro 2016 finals, but that had much to do with the fact that he was, after long absence injured, far from wholly fit.
Arguably the most creative and gifted of all English midfield players, a very rare breed indeed these days. The generosity of his views about Howe can only be applauded but modesty can only go so far and I frankly do not think Wilshere – on the field at least – has much to learn from anybody.
There are those meanwhile, who see Howe as a future England manager. Though believing this to be far too early a stage in his managerial career, I would be delighted in due course to see this happen. We are told that Wenger himself was preferred for the England role by the somewhat deluded panjandrums at the FA, something which seemed to me seriously belated. What after all has he in recent seasons achieved with an Arsenal team with which, for so long, he had so much success.
So we have the competent but unexciting Sam Allardyce, who made a fairly dismal start in Trnava against the depleted men of Slovakia. No doubt England will crush Malta and plod to the World Cup finals in Russia, where they will fall honourably by the wayside; Allardyce being, at least unlikely to repeat the same crass mistakes made, alas, by the once impressive Roy Hodgson.
Wilshere came on as a substitute for Bournemouth against West Brom looking fit, adroit and constructive. One’s salient hope is that at least he can stay away from injury. Who can blame him for leaving Arsenal, albeit on loan, when he tells us that for all his praise, Wenger could not guarantee him a place.
Wenger meanwhile, has been making some strange decisions with Arsenal. Last Saturday at the Emirates, one saw the debut as a striker of an obscure 28-year-old Spaniard, Lucas Perez, who did, it is true, flick on for Laurent Koscielny to score his spectacular scissor-kick goal, but did very little else of consequence.
Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud sat on the bench until well into the second half, having been omitted entirely in the previous match at Watford.
Give Perez time, Wenger pleaded, it does take the mind back to the case of Herbert Chapman and Jack Lambert. Time and again in the early 1930s Chapman would omit the powerful Yorkshire-born striker, good enough to score no fewer than 38 goals in 1930-31, eulogised by as famous a team-mate as Cliff Bastin. Yet Chapman was forever buying and trying centre forwards to take his place, though none of them succeeded, however expensive.
The great irony was that while Chapman died so prematurely early in 1934, a few months later, the Gunners signed Ted Drake, the centre-forward from Southampton who proceeded to score a cornucopia of goals. 42 in his first full season. Seven in a single game at Aston Villa!
Pure perfectionism or a magnificent obsession? Pep Guardiola, now installed at Manchester City, wants his goalkeepers to construct from the back. Those of us who, in their innocence, believed that the first duty of the goalkeeper is to stop goals being scored are plainly obsolescent.
Last weekend, City’s 17 new million keeper from Barcelona, the Chilean Claudio Bravo, made a highly erratic debut and was lucky not to be sent off. His ejected predecessor Joe Hart, began his new career with Torino with a bad error which gave away a goal.
Whether, overall, Bravo will be – however expensive – an improvement on Hart remains to be seen. Back in the 1960s, Dennis Law had rather a torrid time with Torino. But when I was making a documentary there with Gerry Hitchens, an elderly fan told me Law was the best player they’d had, even better than their hero Valentino Mazzola, a five-time Serie A champion.