Five-a-side TOTW: May 9th 2017

Picking an eleven is hard; picking just five is even harder.

Game week 36, and things are really heating up. Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough, coupled withTottenham’s 1-0 defeat to London rivals West Ham, means that the Blues are now only one win away from claiming the title. The result also meant that Middlesbrough were relegated to British footballs second tier for a joint record fourth time. Manchester City briefly moved up to third following Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of a dire Crystal Palace side, however Liverpool’s goalless draw with Southampton meant that the Reds regained third place, albeit having played one game more. Arsenal grabbed an important win over Manchester United that ensured that they remained in the hunt for fourth, and all but ended any faint hope their visitors might have had of a finishing in the Champions League places. Elsewhere, Bournemouth and Stoke drew 2-2, while Burnley and West Brom shared the same scoreline in dead rubber fixtures. Finally, it was at the bottom where things really did get tasty. Hull’s defeat and Swansea’s victory meant that the Tigers dropped into the relegation zone with only two games left to play.

Goalkeeper – Fraser Forster 

This guy is a class act, but it would be wrong to suggest that his performances have reached the constant heights from which we have come to expect. The Saints stopper has looked slightly uncomfortable at times although he has not been aided by the fact that Virgil Van Dijk has been out for four months. Nevertheless, the ex-Celtic man was in sensational form as Southampton claimed an unlikely point at Anfield. His save from James Milner’s well struck penalty was no doubt the highlight. A really top display by the big man!

The Stopper – Laurent Koscielny 

Arsène Wenger finally ended his Mourinho hoodoo, largely thanks to a really rather brilliant performance by his captain. Koscielny was everywhere and did brilliantly up against the pace of his compatriot, Anthony Martial. The 31 year old reads the game brilliantly.  Time and time again he nipped in ahead of his opponent to win the ball back for his team. Arsenal once again lined up with a back three, with Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal either side of the Frenchmen. There was simply no way through for Mourinho’s men who lost in the league for the first time in 25 games.

The Anchor – Wilfred Ndidi 

Had Leicester signed this guy in the summer they would have been a million miles away from a relegation battle. As it is, their comfortable 3-0 win against Watford elevated them to the dizzy heights of ninth! Ndidi has been nothing short of a revelation since joining the Foxes from Genk in January. Still only 20, he looks like he has all the qualities to be  a real success in the Premier League. His goal against Watford was his third of the season. Not bad for a defensive minded midfielder.

The Playmaker – David Silva

Pardon the pun, but this guy is worth his weight in gold! Staggeringly, this is Silva’s first appearance in our five-a-side TOTW. He was just superb against Crystal Palace as his City side recorded a resounding 5-0 win. Although Silva got the ball rolling with a smart left footed volley, it was really his all round play that impressed. He is so intelligent, he just seems to glide into space and always seems able to pick out a killer pass. Manchester City are fortunate to have him, and we are lucky enough to be able to watch his brilliant playmaking skills every weekend.

The Finisher – Fernando Llorente 

I said at the beginning of the season that he would have to score goals if Swansea were going to stand any chance of staying up. The ex-Bilbao man has not disappointed, bagging an impressive 13 goals from 31 Premier League games. Of those 13, few will have been more important than the one he got against Everton. After Hull City had lost 2-0 at home to already relegated Sunderland, Llorente and his fellow Swans knew that any sort of victory against Everton would lift them out of the drop zone. Llorente’s header, his seventh of the season, means that Swansea now have their safety in their own hands.

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Wenger and Corbyn in unlikely alliance

*DISCLAIMER – This is not a real story.* 

After Theresa May’s shock decision to call a snap election in early June we look at how both Arsène Wenger and Jeremy Corbyn are experiencing a very similar crisis.

We at somoneonthepost.com can exclusively reveal that both Arsène Wenger and Jeremy Corbyn are confiding in each other. 

Both men are under increased pressure to resign and it seems that the two embattled leaders have found solace in each other’s struggles.

While Wenger and Corbyn’s alliance may seem surprising at first glance, closer inspection reveals that both men do actually have a great deal in common.

Wenger’s position at Arsenal is looking to be increasingly untenable. With fans voicing their discontent and players seeming to disobey tactics it looks like the man affectionately known as ‘Le Professeur’ may be about to end his 21 year reign.

Corbyn’s position looks as bleak, if not bleaker. After becoming Labour leader in September 2015, the MP for Islington North has presided over Labour’s worst run of results since the 1950’s.

Wenger and Corbyn, both 67, retain the support of important allies within their respective organisations. The Arsenal owner, Stan Kroenke, continues to support the veteran Frenchmen, while Corbyn has found support from the vast number of trade unions who refuse to put pressure on the hippy allotment owner to resign from his position.

However, not everything is rosy within the Corbyn camp. There have been reports that resenting Labour MP’s have organised a plane to be flown over Westminster with a ‘Corbyn Out’ banner attached. We understand that Wenger has provided his friend with advice on how to how to deal with this clearly unpleasant experience.

“I have a lot of admiration for Jeremy” declared Wenger. “He seems like a clever man, and he is brilliantly stubborn. I really do see a lot of similarities between the two of us.

“Yes it’s true that I have advised him on how to deal with dissenting fans, but I know that he has the strength to deal with it. After all, he dated Diane Abbott for a number of years, so after coming out of that largely unscathed, I am sure he will be able to deal with a few vigilante backbenchers.”

Corbyn was similarly generous in his praise for the Arsenal manager. “What Arsène has done is truly remarkable. He’s managed to hold onto his job through a succession of underwhelming campaigns. If I can do my job half as well as him I will still be Labour leader come the 2037 general election!”

Corbyn has apparently taken strength from Arsenal’s run of consecutive fourth placed finishes. Between 2006 and 2014 The Gunners finished fourth a remarkable six times.

“I remember Arsène once saying that fourth place was like a trophy. I am trying to relay this message to my shadow cabinet. If we finish in fourth place in the coming general election then we will have a chance of participating in Europe’s premier political debates next season. We will of course have to negotiate a tricky qualifying round in Brussels!”

Corbyn’s optimism is admirable yet sadly very much misplaced. With Britain all but certain to leave the EU in the coming years it would seem that he is unlikely to ever get the opportunity to lead his side in Europe.

Wenger on the other hand still has an outside chance of claiming a place in one of Europe’s top competitions next season.

“We haven’t given up on fourth place just yet. If we qualify then I can assure the fans that we will be doing our level best to scrape through the group stages before being eliminated 12-1 on aggregate in the round of 16!”

Huw Jenkins: The Swansea Slayer

Swansea are bottom of the table and seemingly destined for relegation to The Championship. Simmo looks at why the Swansea chairman, Huw Jenkins, is to blame for the clubs pitiful demise. 

I feel sorry for Bob Bradley – if you were to ask most neutrals then they would probably say the same. The job he took on at Swansea really was a mission impossible.

Looking through that Swansea team it is difficult to see any other outcome other than their relegation to British footballs second tier. I can’t think of a single player, bar the goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and playmaker Gylfi Sigurðsson, who would get into any other team in the Premier League.

The demise of Swansea City is a sad one. When they were promoted under Brendan Rodgers they were an exciting, dynamic outfit that looked to play good expansive football. Players such as Scott Sinclair and Ashley Williams had excelled in the Championship and took their good form into their debut season’s in the Premier League.

It really was refreshing to see a newly promoted team play football out from the back. This was largely down to the philosophy that Brendan Rodgers instilled in the team. He believed that his teams should play in a particular way. It was brave and certainly admired. Rodgers’s reputation soared to the extent that he took over the reins at Liverpool in the summer of 2012. Huw Jenkins acted quickly and sealed the services of ex Denmark and Barcelona legend Michael Laudrup.

Laudrup’s appointment was seen as a bit of a coup, and indeed he was able to use his substantial connections within the game to convince a host of players to join the Swans during that summer. Players such as Michu, Pablo Hernández and Ki Sung-yueng arrived with burgeoning reputations.

At the beginning of his tenure, Laudrup looked to be building on the good work done by Rodgers. Whilst Rodger’s teams had often been exciting to watch, they lacked the defensive nous to succeed on a weekly basis in the Premier League. Laudrup looked to rectify this, and added steel to the Swansea backline through signings such as Chico Flores. Laudrup had looked to have taken the Swans to the next level. He was establishing them as a Premier League team and was picking up some very impressive results along the way.

Under the Danes stewardship, Swansea won the 2013 League Cup by beating fourth tier Bradford City 5-0 a Wembley Stadium. But even Laudrup’s success was not enough to prevent him from being fired. Poor form and alleged wrangling over contracts and signings led to Jenkins dismissing him in in February 2014.

His replacement Garry Monk was a popular choice amongst fans. Having been with the Swans for a decade, he knew the way in which the club worked, and most importantly, was familiar with the squad of players available to him. As a young English manager, the Premier League can be a daunting place. Indeed, a host of far more established names have fallen victim to the trials and tribulations of England’s top tier. Monk, however, took it like a duck takes to water. He looked assured, tactically astute, and most importantly strong enough to deal with the pressures of the role. What’s more, he made what can sometimes be a difficult transition, from team mate to manager, look effortless.

Monk really did look like he had all the credentials to become a top Premier League manager. That was until Jenkins once again wielded the axe. A poor run of one win in 11 games led to Monk being ‘relieved of his duties.’ Jenkins will look to justify his decision by saying that Monk had accomplished all he had been brought in to do. When he replaced Laudrup there had been an almost instant upturn in form. Monk steered the ship to safety, but as soon as it entered difficult waters Jenkins was more than prepared to make his manager walk the plank.

The appointment of veteran Italian, Francesco Guidolin, was not seen as particularly inspiring. However, the 2015/2016 season proved to be a good one for veteran Italian coaches. Guidolin took Swansea back to basics and led them away from the relegation zone. They sealed Premier League survival with an impressive 3-1 win over Liverpool. Guidolin’s appointment had proved to be a successful one. He won seven of his 15 league games, including impressive wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham.

Under Guidolin, Swansea started the new season well with a 1-0 win at newly promoted Burnley. However, he had lost the services of his inspirational captain Ashley Williams to Everton in the summer. The signing of Mike van der Hoorn for £2 million From Ajax was not the sort of signing that gave Swansea fans a great deal of confidence. Elsewhere, Andre Ayew joined West Ham in a £20 million deal. A sizeable income, however, nearly £16 million of that money was reinvested in the young Spaniard, Borja Bastón, a player who had made fewer than 40 appearances in Spain’s top tier.

It seemed glaringly obvious that Guidolin’s team lacked the required experience to maintain their Premier League status. After winning only one of their opening seven league games, Jenkins once again decided that enough was enough.

This led to the appointment of Bradley – one that was unsurprisingly met with a great deal of skepticism. Although he had managed both the United States and Egyptian national teams with moderate success, his last job in football had been in the French second tier with Le Havre. It was hardly the ideal pedigree.

However those who were judging Bradley by his past managerial experience were simply being naïve. Many managers have arrived in the Premier League from lesser know leagues and enjoyed great success. Look no further than Arsène Wenger, who was brought in from Japanese football.

Indeed there was a certain level of arrogance amongst pundits and British football aficionados. What could an American possibly know about the English game? Whilst it is true that Bradley’s results were not great, people focused on irrelevant details, such as him referring to a penalty kick as a ‘PK.’ The vocabulary that Bradley used certainly was not the reason that his Swansea team struggled so much. Bradley was brought in to try and help ward off another inevitable fight with relegation – yet he wasn’t even given a transfer window to bring his own players in. What was he supposed to do?

People will point to the fact that the Swans leaked goals under the American. Yes, this was certainly true. However Bradley would almost certainly not have sanctioned the sale of Williams had he been in charge.

Therefore the problems at Swansea seem to all lead back to one man – Huw Jenkins. He is the man that has now sacked four managers in the last three seasons. He is the man who let Wilfried Bony go, sold Ben Davies to Tottenham, and of course let Williams join Everton. He is the man that seemed to crave rapid Premier League success over a long term and clearly defined project.

His latest appointment, that of Bayern Munich assistant, Paul Clement is again an odd one. Whilst Clement is widely regarded as one of the finest British coaches around, having held positions with Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid, and of course Bayern, he has only had one very brief experience in first team management, a partially successful half season with Derby County. Once again it is hardly the sort of appointment that gives you much hope of ensuring Premier League survival.

In my opinion Swansea’s six year stay in the Premier League will be over come May. Either way, whoever is in charge when this Swansea side goes down must be given the chance to rebuild. Not since Rodgers has a Swansea manager been in charge for two consecutive seasons. This lack of stability is an inherent problem, and breeds uncertainty right the way through the club. Sustained long term success is only ever really achieved when people are given a chance in the short term. Jenkins has so far been unwilling to do that.

French flop five-a-side

Only 20 miles separates Britain and France at their closest points, and apart from the Republic of Ireland, no other foreign country has been more represented in the Premier League. Whilst you could count on two hands the number of British players to have crossed the Channel, the number of French players to have made the reverse trip is well into three figures. Since the Premier League’s creation in the early 90’s, some of France’s greatest ever players have graced its grounds. Players like Ginola, Vieira, Petit, Desailly, Deschamps, and Henry to name just a few have had huge impacts. However, not all those who have arrived on these shores have had quite the same level of success. Here is our list of five French flops who failed to live up to expectations.

Goalkeeper – Fabien Barthez

Apart from Iker Casillas, Barthez probably has the best CV of any other goalkeeper in the last 25 years. A Champions League winner with Marseille, twice a Ligue 1 Champion with Monaco and of course a World and European Cup winner with France, there really were great hopes for him when Manchester United snapped him up for just shy of £8 million in 2000.

In many ways Barthez’s stay in Manchester was not as unsuccessful as is often made out. He did win two Premier League titles and even made it into the PFA Team of the Year at the end of the 2000-01 season. Yet despite these successes Barthez is often remembered for high profile errors and an inability to dominate his area. His diminutive frame was perhaps not cut out for the weekly rigours of the Premier League. Despite his undoubted talent, Barthez’s three year stay in Manchester will always be considered a disappointment.

The Stopper – Sébastien Squillaci 

Squillaci was 30 when he joined Arsenal for £4 million in the summer of 2010, and was seen by many as an impulsive signing. Indeed Squillaci’s time at The Emirates was pretty much a disaster from start to finish. Despite being a regular in his first season, playing in 32 of Arsenal’s 58 games, his poor form forced Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, to once again dip into the transfer market. The signing of Per Mertesacker, coupled with the emergence of Laurent Koscielny, meant that Squillaci’s first team opportunities were greatly restricted, and he appeared only seven more times for the Gunners over the following two years.

Widely regarded as one of Wenger’s worse ever signings, Squillaci left Arsenal on a free transfer in 2013 to join Bastia in his native country.

The Ball Winner  – Jean-Alain Boumsong 

This guy is perhaps one of the most famous failed Frenchmen in English football history. Outside of football Boumsong holds a degree in financial control and has forged a career as a respected pundit on French TV. Yet on the pitch at Newcastle United the defender could hardly have looked more out of place.

Newcastle United manager, Graeme Souness, the man behind the worst signing in Premier League history, Ali Dia, spent £8 million in order to bring Boumsong from Rangers. Boumsong’s career in the North-East was not far short of a catastrophe. He only lasted 18 months in the Premier League before Juventus, yes JUVENTUS, decided to try and make a success of the 27 time France international. Newcastle made a £5 million loss on Boumsong and his transfer was later part of Lord Stevens’ inquiry into corruption in football. An unsavoury episode all round.

The Playmaker – Florian Thauvin

The most recent addition to the team. Although Thauvin’s career to date has failed to live up to expectations, at still only 23 he has time to recover. When he joined Marseille for €15 million in 2013 there was a feeling that the winger could be one of the great French players. His two years at the Vélodrome were a success, he scored 15 goals in just shy of 80 games and looked to be developing into a decent player.

His performances prompted Steve McClaren, the then Newcastle United manager, to fork out £15 million in the summer of 2015. His displays in a struggling Newcastle side were underwhelming to say the least and he featured only 13 times and scored just once before rejoining Marseille on loan after half a season on Tyneside.

The Finisher – Stéphane Guivarc’h

Who do you think Stéphane Guivarc’h turned out for in the Premier League? Yep, you guessed it, Newcastle United. It seems the North East of England is a graveyard for French footballers – perhaps it is just that little bit too far from home? Anyway, Guivarc’h is one of those players that will constantly appear in football trivia questions. You will almost certainly come across questions such as who started up front for France in the 1998 World Cup final? or who wore France’s No.9 shirt during the 1998 World Cup? For those of you who did not know the answer already, you do now!

Guivarc’h is very much the forgotten member of that victorious French team. He started four matches in the tournament, but failed to score in any. Despite this disappointment, his performances had clearly done enough to convince Newcastle United to splash out something in the region of £4 million later on that summer. His arrival from Auxerre was seen as a major coup and many believed that he could go on to form a formidable partnership with Alan Shearer. However, it was not meant to be. Although he scored on his league debut he did not find the net again for the St James’ Park outfit and after just six further appearances, he crossed the border to join Rangers.

Should Arsène Wenger take the England job?

Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.

WANTED – England manager to last more than 67 days. Gareth Southgate has recently taken over England duties and whilst he looks to be a safe pair of hands whispers of Wenger have surfaced stronger than ever. Is he the best choice for England? Is England a good move for him?


Sam Simmons argues…

Yes – The ideal manager of  the England team ideally possesses experience managing in the top-flight; knowledge of the English game; big game know-how; integrity and honesty.Crucially the above description bears no reference to the nationality of this person.

The events of the last week have seen the resurrection of an old question – should a foreign manager be in charge of the England team? It is a difficult discussion to have with patriotic supporters. The heart almost certainly says no. However, decisions made by the heart are often idealist, ill-advised, impulsive and frequently bad. Just ask poor Sam Allardyce. The England job is the biggest job in English football. It eclipses the jobs at Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and, dare I say it, Arsenal.

Arsène Wenger stands out as the outstanding candidate.That statement alone is likely to incense a large portion of England’s loyal following. Realistically though, Wenger has to be the FA’s no.1 target. If measuring it against the criteria listed at the beginning of this article, then there can be little doubt that the Arsenal manager is the best suited for the role.

For all of his faults, of which there are many, the Arsenal boss is undoubtedly a great manager. His arrival in north London two-decades ago heralded a footballing revolution. Whether he could have the same effect on the England team now is questionable, however, there is little doubt that he is the most qualified for the job.

Wenger is at the right age for the role. At 66 he it at the end of his career. Taking the England job is not a risk for him in the same way it would be for say, Eddie Howe. Why would the Bournemouth boss walk away from a stable job to take up a position that seems almost cursed?If Howe were to fail, then his career would be forever tarnished. If Wenger were to fail his legacy would still stand. If people insist upon the England football manager being English, then the pool from which to choose from is automatically narrowed. Whether we like it or not that pool lacks both depth and quality.

Whilst football romanticists may envisage a true and proper Englishmen, whatever that may be, lifting a World Cup or European Championship, the hard facts are that there aren’t any suitable candidates.

If people were to look beyond the rather jingoistic and prehistoric opinions of so called experts, then they would realise that the nationality of a manager means little if he is the best man for the job. Wenger certainly is the best man for the job. With 20 years’ experience managing in the Premier League, there is no man, English or otherwise, better suited for the role.

Wenger’s future is entirely in his own hands, He, and he alone, will decide when time is up at The Emirates. The sad truth is that Wenger has probably outstayed his welcome. The last few years have not gone the way we he would’ve liked.
Sometimes he has looked aged, downtrodden, and dishevelled.

Let’s be clear, the England job is not easier than the Arsenal job. Far from it in fact. But as a foreigner, Wenger would almost be detached from that pressure. Eriksson and Capello both failed, but neither felt the wrath of the British media like McClaren, Hodgson or even Allardyce. Both have managed to move back home or abroad and resume their careers elsewhere.

Wenger loves Arsenal, but the notoriously stubborn Frenchmen must realise that enough is enough. Longevity is only good if there is an evidential progression. For Wenger and Arsenal there hasn’t been; in fact, they’ve been stagnant for the best part of a decade.

For Wenger the time has come. With his contract up at the end of the season he will have a decision to make. His legacy at Arsenal will stand for an eternity. But now his adopted country needs him.

For England fans there has to be some realism. Whilst having a foreign manager in charge is not ideal, insisting upon having an Englishmen at the expense of the success of the national team would just be absurd.


Mike Franchetti argues…

No – Should Arsène Wenger take the England job? Erm, no – definitely not. I’m sure his appointment would reinvigorate the bumbling England fanbase – I’d certainly love it – but should Wenger walk away from this current Arsenal team to join the mess that is the national set-up? No way.

Let’s first mention the timing of the whole thing. Wenger’s in the ‘last year’ of his seemingly never-ending contract. This could be the perfect time for Le Professeur to cast a look beyond the Emirates and take the reins of the national side. However, on closer inspection, it’s the worst possible time for him to do anything of the sort.

Wenger survived Sir Alex’s supremacy and clawed his way through more than a couple of seasons of Chelsea dominance. Right now, his Arsenal side are better than both of those clubs. They’ve just comprehensively swept aside Chelsea whilst Manchester United, though finally improving, haven’t looked convincing since 2013.

Don’t be fooled by the accent (which gets more French when answering difficult questions), Wenger is a lover of the English game. It’s for this reason that his name and the England job continue to be mentioned in the same sentence. But would the F.A really appoint a man so ingrained in the history of one club? Would England’s Spurs contingent thrive under the man who spent twenty seasons keeping north London red? It seems unlikely a man of Wenger’s professionalism would do anything other than select and nurture the best players, but it’s difficult to picture him with an arm around Kyle Walker.

In truth, the players would probably be fine – but how about the fans? It seems unfair for this to be a factor, but it’s exactly the sort of nonsense the F.A will be thinking about. Look at the recent England managers with their passive personalities and non-reputations; McClaren, Hodgson, Southgate, to some extent even Capello.

But back to the point at hand – why would Wenger do it?! He already cops enough flak from his own supporters; does he really need to be thrown in front of the entire nation? He has a strong reputation and the England job is poison. Even the hardiest of his detractors start their complaining with ‘he’s done well but…’ and there’s no denying his impact on club football.

Even if you are of the mindset that the England situation can’t get any worse, the job remains a gamble. Wenger won’t be able to freely overhaul a national system which is altered only slightly with every appointment. In the mid-90s Arsenal football club was ripe for change and Wenger was revolutionary. England’s needs are far messier. Wenger may still have a few tricks up his sleeve but what will he get out of the England job? Two years of mediocrity and a World Cup quarter-final? Anything longer or more successful than that is hard to imagine.

He’s 66 now and the current England team needs more than a quick fix. The idea of Wenger’s England is exciting to players, fans and probably the man himself – but the same could be said of Pep Guardiola’s Aston Villa. Even with Sam Allardyce doing his best to make it happen, the perfect storm needed to bring Wenger to our national side will pass by as a near-miss. Arsenal are too strong right now, Wenger too old, the risk too great.

Even if you don’t believe in Arsenal’s thirteenth straight attempt to recapture the Premier League, Wenger does – and that’s all that matters. Everything he does – the way he acts, the decisions he makes – reeks of commitment, calculation and maintaining his reputation. If he has one eye on another job, he’s doing a masterful job of disguising it.

There have been no ‘do-or-die’ purchases, no signs of player unhappiness and no interviews conducted in any way other than classic Arsène. If he does eventually take the England job it will have been triggered by a break in the status quo; he’d have just won the League or Champions League, or bombed to fifth and got sacked. It’s autumn now and he’ll be pairing that knitted navy V-neck jumper with a bright red tie long into 2017. I can’t imagine it any other way.