I believe we have a football match tomorrow, but judging from the questions that the press asked Arsene Wenger, you’d think we were having an etiquette contest instead. Since the first 30% of Wenger’s Friday presser was about the handshake let’s get that out of the way first, get to injury news and end up with some sort of analysis of the Stoke game.
Wenger was ready for the question about the handshake and immediately fired back that tomorrow is his 500th league match and out of 499 matches he has shaken hands 497 times. For those of you not quick with the calculator that’s a 99.6% handshake return so it must be something very special when this man refuses to shake another man’s hand. Moreover, Wenger said that it wouldn’t have mattered if Arsenal had won the match, he still would not have shook Mark Hughes’ hand, because it’s not the losing that caused the acrimony it was something Mark Hughes did.
I have heard it widely reported that Hughes cursed Wenger but for his part Arsene will neither confirm nor deny that. In fact, in what I think was his most stinging criticism, Arsene Wenger stated unequivocally that he would not talk about the incident and that unlike other managers he doesn’t go into the conference room after the match and talk shite about the other manager.
Yesterday I wrote that I would have taken Hughes’ hand, pulled him close and while grinning from ear to ear I would have whispered “you know, you’re a real cocksandwhich” right in his ear. What Wenger delivered today was such a better blow it’s not even funny. He has now publicly castigated Mark Hughes, called him out for being a big mouth, and done so in a way that is classy and shows that Wenger, unlike Hughes, is a man of principle.
The whole exchange between the reporter and Wenger went like this:
Reporter: Mr. Wenger?
Arsene Wenger: [pointedly ignoring them] I am extraordinarily busy, sir.
Reporter: [tentatively] I just wanted to ask about the handshake – The-the handshake, for Mark Hughes. Wh-When does he get it?
Arsene Wenger: He doesn’t.
Reporter: Why not?
Arsene Wenger: Because he broke the rules.
Reporter: What rules? We didn’t see any rules, did we, Charlie?
[Charlie shakes his head briefly]
Arsene Wenger: [springs up from his chair, angrily] Wrong, sir! Wrong! Under section 37B of the contract signed by him, it states quite clearly that all offers shall become null and void if – and you can read it for yourself in this photostatic copy:
[grabs a magnifying glass and reads]
Arsene Wenger: I, the undersigned, shall forfeit all rights, privileges, and licenses herein and herein contained, et cetera, et cetera… Fax mentis incendium gloria cultum, et cetera, et cetera… Memo bis punitor delicatum!
[slams the contract copy and the magnifying glass down, continues shouting]
Arsene Wenger: It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal! Mark Hughes acted like a huge prat! He cursed me, he came into my technical area, he pranced around his technical area like an enraged 10 year old, and then he went whinging to the press like a little boy, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!
Reporter: [shocked] You’re a poor loser. You’re uncouth! That’s what you are!
Reporter: How could you do something like this, build up a little boy’s hopes and then smash all his dreams to pieces? You’re an inhuman monster!
Arsene Wenger: [shouts even louder] I said good day!
And then we talked about football.
Actually the very first question today was about Arsenal’s infirmary, specifically about Theo Walcott, because hey did you know that he’s had some call ups to the English national team? Walcott is out and frankly it’s not a big loss because Arsenal don’t need any more short players on the pitch tomorrow. The important injuries are to all of our tall players: Diaby, Bendtner, van Persie, Song is suspended, Senderos is in Siberia, and Djourou is out for the season. Sagna is back in for the game but that means that tomorrow we will field a team with only two players over 6′; Almunia and Traore (he’s 6’1″ according to ESPN). Of course ESPN lists Ramsey as 5’10″ but according to this picture, he looks like he might have grown a bit from last year:
Of course pictures can lie, but from what I’ve seen of him this year he does look like he’s grown a few.
For Stoke, they are only missing Amdy Faye and Dean Whitehead (suspended). Rory Delap, James Beattie, and Ryan Shawcross all could be back.
Look, we all know how this match is going to go down: Stoke are going to kick the living crap out of the smaller Arsenal players. Then they are going to lump the ball to one of their two wingers, who will attempt to kick the ball off the fullbacks so they can win a throw in. On the ensuing throw in, some gigantic Englishman will push, pull, kick, claw, and elbow his way up to win the header and try to get a shot on goal. This team is so one dimensional they’re hardly even a point (physics jokes!). On the other side, Arsenal have been chronically unable to defend exactly the kind of play that Stoke will employ.
So, I think that we’re going to need to really work hard denying their defenders/midfielders the space to make the long pass. I think we’re going to need to stretch their defense and get our attacking players in behind the fullbacks and for that we really need Arshavin and either Rosicky or Nasri to play a bit wider than they are used to. In fact, we might even see a 4-4-2 tomorrow with Eduardo and Arshavin up front, Rosicky and Nasri playing wide, and Denilson and Cesc in the middle.
It all depends on how Wenger wants to play. I could equally see him playing the 4-3-3 with Rambo, Cesc, and Denilson in the middle to help out the defense. Of course the 4-3-3 has not been clicking over the last 3 domestic matches the way it was earlier in the season, proof of that is in the fact that we have not scored in 3 matches. Tomorrow would be a good day to break that duck.
One last thing that needs to be mentioned is that somehow Arsenal have drawn Mark Clattenburg for the third time this season. Now, I want to make this very clear: Mark Clattenburg is a mentalist. Here’s what I wrote about him after the Spurs match:
Mark Clattenburg is not good enough to referee my Sunday pickup matches. Yet somehow he’s managed to referee two Arsenal matches already this season: against Spurs yesterday and infamously against Man City at the start of this season.
Two matches managed, two matches bottled. I guess the good news is that he’s two for two this season!
Liverpool, Everton, Blackburn, and Wigan fans all remember Clattenburg’s name as well, because he was publicly rebuked by Chief Hackett after huge gaffes in last year’s Merseyside Derby and after a series of bizarre calls in the Blackburn v. Wigan match. I don’t want my column to be nothing more than a moan about the ref, but the fact is that Clattenburg allowed Adebayor to stamp two players in the City clash, one stamping which he claims not to have seen despite this video evidence which shows him looking right at the incident:
Like I said, I don’t want to moan about Clattenburg but I feel like I have to say something when he lets David Bentley get away with a studs-up, ankle breaking tackle as he did yesterday. Clattenburg was simply all over the place, playing advantage to Arsenal on one end of the pitch and then stopping play on the other end, and the only thing I really want from a ref is consistency.
The only thing that I can tell he’s consistent about is allowing players to get away with red-card offenses. How much you wanna bet they put him in charge of the Carling Cup match against City?
I suspect that more than anything Arsenal do or don’t do, Mark Clattenburg will be the deciding factor tomorrow. I don’t need to tell you all how important this match is. Arsenal are on a serious slide and really need to regain some form, especially in front of goal. I believe that the boys can do it, we’re the far better team, we’re at home, and we know that we can score goals. We might just need that little bit of luck to get us back on track.
Anyway, the match is live of Fox Soccer Channel tomorrow at 7am and I’m going to be liveblogging here on the site. See you then?