A feeling about the end of an era increased yet again yesterday, the appointment of respected Barcelona director of football Raul Sanllehi as the club’s new head of football relations further diluting the once-omnipotent French manager’s power base developed during 21 contrasting years.
This latest development follows less than a week since soothsaying scout Sven Mislintat, who snapped up Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang et al, was drafted in to oversee recruitment. These steps are clear assaults on Wenger.
As a man for whom absolute control is an absolute must, the undercutting endeavours of his chief executive will surely raise ire.
Gazidis exists as a polarising figure among the Gunners faithful. Chastisement has regularly been reserved for the man labelled as a facilitator of Wenger and the intransigent neglect he has overseen.
Blame for the north Londoners’ 13-year wait for Premier League glory or the end of a 20-year stretch in the Champions League has been shared out, yet Gazidis’ work to enact revolution behind the scenes requires adept timing to reach fruition.
When toppling a dictator, momentum is key. Forget #wengerout, real ferment arrived the moment access to the riches from Europe’s elite club competition was denied.
Welcome to the club, Raul Sanllehi https://t.co/Ihm6vRriVd
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) November 28, 2017
Wenger has rallied against the increased use of analytics, a noted desire of Gazidis, making Arsenal’s purchase of StatDNA in December 2012 previously moot. He also strongly opposed the introduction of a technical director both publicly and privately in the build-up to the contentious signing of a two-year contract extension last summer.
How the mood has now changed. Chief scout and major ally Steve Rowley has been sidelined into virtual retirement, with chief negotiator – for the last eight years – Dick Law suffering the same fate.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The men who once snapped up Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robin van Persie have underwhelmed for too long with the likes of Andre Santos, Lukas Podolski and Granit Xhaka.
Yesterday’s revelations in France superstar Antoine Griezmann’s autobiography that, “I waited, I waited, and I kept waiting” in 2013 will only fuel approval of the changes.
Signs of life have flickered with Wenger in 2017/18, a peerless home record enhanced by a late winner at Burnley last weekend propelling them into the top four.
But the end of his era inexorably approaches. It’s now Gazidis’ time.
At the weekend Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino effectively said they could not catch City, who are 13 points ahead of his side, but Klopp would not follow suit.
He said he was concentrating on their own form as they had to be in a position to capitalise should Pep Guardiola’s team start to falter.
“We are close enough to see it (the title race),” said the German.
“They won (against Huddersfield) and as long as they win no-one else has a chance. If they stop winning and our team is then in a good moment then it is possible you can still get them.
“We want to have the next three (points) and then the next three and then the next three because if anyone struggles we need to be there.
“But for us at the moment they (City) are too far above us and if they keep on going like this no-one has a chance and it is already decided.”
Liverpool will look to extend their six-match unbeaten run in all competitions at Stoke on Wednesday, where they have won on their last three visits.
Key men Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are set to return to the side after being left out of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea in favour of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Daniel Sturridge but Klopp believes their replacements proved an important point for his longer-term thinking in their absence.
“We had to make a few changes and it makes absolute sense in this part of the season to use the strength of the squad,” added the manager, who also has midfielder Emre Can fit again and will make a late decision on whether Dejan Lovren can return to the squad.
“So if you use a few players you have to leave out a few others and that’s what we did but it is not completely unlikely they (Mane and Firmino) will start.
“By the way we don’t ‘rest’, we use our players. We thought against Chelsea maybe we needed fresh legs and I thought it worked quite well.
Klopp on squad rotation: We don’t rest our players, we use our players.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 28, 2017
“It is a very important sign for the squad from my side that I show the faith in all the boys and it was very important for me that the boys showed me they were 100 per cent ready.
“Probably we will make one or two changes from the last game to the next game and then maybe not for the next game.
“We will see how we deal with it, it all depends on the impression I get during games and during the sessions.”
One will definitely be back at Stoke tomorrow, the other will be ‘close’.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 28, 2017
Provided by Press Association Sport
‘Rhino’, a 1995 FA Cup winner with the Toffees, has registered just one win in four games in the Premier League and lost five in seven matches in all competitions.
Win or not against the Hammers, the Everton board will not be sticking with Unsworth as majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri makes his way through his shortlist.
This clash isn’t promising a classic, in fact it’s been suggested this could be the first game in Premier League history in which both teams lose, but the two sides desperately need points to move away from the drop zone.
Here, we look at the key talking points.
GYLFI SIGURDSSON NEEDS TO PLAY CENTRALLY, NOT OUT WIDE
It’s amazing to think the Icelander cost the Blues almost £9million more than city rivals Liverpool shelled out on world-beater Mohamed Salah.
The 28-year-old has looked laboured, off the pace and out of form so far – and although a lack of a pre-season didn’t help him – it hasn’t reflected well on Sigurdsson.
That said, it’s not been up to him that he’s been shoehorned onto the left-flank when playing centrally is his best position. It’s where he can effect the game and shoot from range, with rewards as we saw against Southampton, and it’s where he needs to play.
Sigurdsson is the only Blues player who has the ability to create something out of nothing and needs to be given his preferred position where he can influence the game.
With forward options limited – Dominic Calvert-Lewin is likely to have to start up top again in the absence of the suspended Oumar Niasse – Everton need a supply line from somewhere with both Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon showing little signs of assisting.
SHOULD DAVID UNSWORTH RECALL WAYNE ROONEY?
Wayne Rooney must’ve felt that he had gone back in time, sitting there glum-faced on the Toffees’ substitutes bench at St Mary’s Stadium.
Indeed, it was a bit of déjà vu to over 15 years ago, when he was again an unused sub at the same stadium in April 2002. He was just 16 back then when David Moyes included him in the squad for the trip to the south coast during the 2001-02 campaign – before we all know what happened the following season.
It’s gone full circle since then for Rooney, of course, but he has gone backwards under Unsworth’s reign.
He has been an unused sub in the past two Premier League matches and was withdrawn, after starting, in each of Unsworth’s first three league games in charge. Similarly, he was taken off for his ineffectiveness in the EFL Cup clash with Chelsea in the temporary boss’s first game, left out at Lyon and was part of a second-string XI which got thumped at home by Atalanta in the dead rubber Europa League match last week.
This doesn’t necessarily point to a return to the line-up on Wednesday whatsoever and Rooney’s presence in the side is at the detriment to Sigurdsson, with both of them wanting to play their football in No10 roles.
With all that considered, the gut feeling is that the 32-year-old will get the nod and be sandwiched into the side, somehow, for his leadership qualities in a team devoid of characters if anything else.
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A DEFENSIVE SHAMBLES?
There’s no doubt that West Ham will play direct against Everton, and rightly so, the Blues have looked incapable of defending crosses into the box and have been weak at the knees centrally.
With the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Andy Carroll set to start for the Hammers, the away side should be confident about getting plenty of joy with long ball play.
Phil Jagielka, an Everton legend in his own right, has looked all of his 35-years this season while Ashley Williams’ dreadful defensive displays have meant he bears the brunt of the Goodison boos.
Michael Keane (an injury doubt) has been caught in the middle, with the former Burnley man not being helped by the form of the two aforementioned centre-backs whether he has been operating in a back five or four.
Everton’s soft-centre and inability to defend has been at the crux of this disastrous campaign and Unsworth’s arrival hasn’t fixed things, with the club conceding 10 goals in his four league matches in charge.
Leighton Baines ‘popped’ calf at Southampton is likely to rule him out, leaving 20-year-old Jonjoe Kenny as the only recognised full-back. It may mean Cuco Martina has to be recalled – a man who hasn’t exactly been a fans’ favourite at Goodison Park so far.
With mystery injuries and unavailability of others, like Mo Besic and James McCarthy, adding to the long-term injuries of Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori – Everton simply don’t have any defensive options.
The limited protection from out-of-form Morgan Schneiderlin and a lack of clarity in the holding midfield positions, along with Idrissa Gueye and Tom Davies, hasn’t offered much stability either – with standout goalkeeper Jordan Pickford being the man who has truly been unlucky to play behind them this term.
DAVID MOYES RETURNS TO GOODISON PARK FOR THIRD TIME
The Scot has been back to Goodison Park twice since leaving the Blues in 2013 after 11 years on Merseyside. On both occasions, his Manchester United and Sunderland sides went down 2-0.
But, this time around, there’s certainly a different feeling about his reunion given Everton’s wretched form – which is in complete contrast to confident teams he faced under Roberto Martinez and Ronald Koeman.
Although it wasn’t the best performance against Leicester, Moyes’ team showed grit to grind out a draw and there were signs the basic messages, as the 54-year-old put it, that have been instilled on the training ground alongside assistants Stuart Pearce and Alan Irvine, have been working.
West Ham have often struggled in the past at Goodison but they should take plenty of confidence into this one and look to get the home crowd on the back of their players early doors.