Sunday, February 18News That Matters

Lacazette injury opens the door for Welbeck + half-hearted boardroom leak does nobody any good

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied for the Europa League – despite having not played in the Europa League this season – there was a chance for Alexandre Lacazette to remind Arsene Wenger he could still make a contribution this season. The French international would undoubtedly have played up front against Ostersund tomorrow night, had he not picked up a knee problem in the wake of the 1-0 defeat to Sp*rs at the weekend.

That problem required surgery, and he’ll now miss 4-6 weeks as he recovers. It’s a real blow for him personally, and for the team – particularly when it comes to our European adventures. Speaking to beIN Sports, Arsene Wenger explained what happened:

Unfortunately he got a surprising swell of the knee after the Tottenham game, and he needed surgery, very quick surgery, and will be out for the next four to five weeks.

Before hinting that this might have been an ongoing issue:

He is down but he recently must have felt something in his knee. Maybe that’s an explanation as well as to why he wasn’t scoring as many goals as he’s used to.

Does he mean that Lacazette felt something but didn’t say anything about it? Might the rumoured arrival of another striker have seen him play through something for fear of losing his place at the worst possible time? It’s unclear, but certainly if he’s been having a issue with his knee it may well have affected his game over the period of time he’s been feeling it.

Whatever about that, it’s done now, and all we can do is wish him a speedy recovery, hopefully it will be closer to four weeks than six, because as I’ve said Europe is really important for us this season, and we need our squad to be as strong as possible for these games. You’d like to think we could cope without him for this particular round, but if we face stronger opposition in subsequent rounds – should we get through – then his absence will be more keenly felt.

Wenger continued:

It’s a massive blow for us, but we have to find a solution. Nobody could predict it, but football is as well to do with unpredictable things and it’s always a good opportunity to find someone who steps in and does well.

It seems that the main beneficiary of this season injury will be Danny Welbeck. Eddie Nketiah aside, he is now the only available striker for Europe until Lacazette gets fit, and he’s sure to get the nod tomorrow night. He’s had two very serious injuries since he’s joined us, and there’s no doubt they’ve had a significant impact on his success here.

Perhaps it’s a romantic notion to think that the injury gods have worked their magic for him to make an impact with a run of games up front, but it’s definitely an opportunity for him to get some games up front and, hopefully, score some goals. We can think back to that Champions League hat-trick against Galatasaray a few seasons ago, and the promise he showed that night which has been unfulfilled since.

He’s never been as convincing again in front of goal, but maybe with some more regular football in his favourite position, he can find his way. Football can be really strange in situations like this. A month ago Welbeck would have looked at Lacazette, Giroud and the incoming Aubameyang as preferred options up front, and now the door has been well and truly opened for him. Let’s see if he can make the most of it.

There should be more pre-Europa League team news at some point later today when the manager meets the press, so we’ll cover that for you over on Arseblog News.

Meanwhile, the Arsenal correspondents for the daily newspapers (Telegraph, Mirror, Mail etc) all dropped a story yesterday at around the same time suggesting that the Arsenal board were making plans for a summer departure for Arsene Wenger. However, lest you think this is a clear show of a new, decisive Arsenal, this bit from the Telegraph puts paid to that:

It is understood that all options – including making a change this year, extending his contract beyond 2020 or even announcing that next season will be the last – remain on the table.

It’s a bit like an Irish weather forecast which tells you it’ll be clear and bright with rain and clouds in the morning, and in the afternoon we’ll have dry spells but thundery showers while it will be warm in places with temperatures dropping to below freezing before snow showers later on.

I think it’s called covering your bases. Clearly this is information which has been leaked by the club, perhaps Ivan Gazidis himself, as he attempts to re-position himself as the mover and shaker extraordinaire rather than Kroenke’s Wormtongue who will do and say whatever it takes to hang on to his £2.5m a year, whether he believes it or not.

I think, regardless of what happens this season, the idea of handing Arsene Wenger an extension is a bad one, as I wrote yesterday. I also believe that when you announce a manager is leaving at the end of his contract, he becomes a dead man walking and it strips him of a very necessary layer of authority when it comes to his squad.

On the one hand it eliminates that whole ‘Are you staying? Are you staying?’ thing as his contract runs down, but there’s a risk to it also. It may be a case that the players respond positively to it and give that bit extra, but it could just as easily make them feel less accountable to the man calling the shots, and that’s not a healthy situation.

Which leaves us with the summer departure situation. If we don’t win anything and continue to under-perform in the league, you can make the case for change very easily; and I believe that even with Europa League success, for example, both Wenger and the club would be foolish to continue and eschew another opportunity to end what has been a fantastic relationship on a hugely positive note.

Still, maybe these behind the scenes machinations and public power-plays are the future. While I’ve been broadly welcoming of the appointments of Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi, it remains to be seen how well they’ll work together – particularly with a Chief Executive who might feel his time has come to show his influence too. It could be a great new dynamic, taking the club in a fresh new direction, or we might see each man try to consolidate his influence and vision for where Arsenal need to go. We just don’t know yet.

Whatever is going to happen though, I’d suggest that stories planted in the press like the one yesterday don’t reflect particularly well on Gazidis, or the board. It hasn’t made them look strong and purposeful. It’s like sniping from the sidelines at a time when the manager is under more pressure than ever, and whatever you think about Wenger and the situation he’s managed us into, it’s a bit grotty all the same.

Right, more on the Europa League etc tomorrow, and news throughout the day on Arseblog News.