Welcome to The Final Ball Blog! This is where we’ll have weekly a weekly detailed insight into the last week of sport for those of you who just couldn’t live by only listening to us for an hour a week!
And thanks to the US elections, there’s been a sense of peace surrounding any sporting matters over the Atlantic Ocean. A rare tranquillity that won’t be long-lived; but while it’s here, it leaves us with one big weekend of football analysis to fill this page with.
And I’ll start with a big old debate that never seems to leave the mouths of the many dinosaurs at the forefront of the media. VAR. Are we not bored of this discussion? Years ago, people asked for a system to fix the imperfections of the game. We complained that we could see the mistakes on camera and the cameras have now been made accessible to a squad of referees. And still, the imperfections exist. What did we expect? A machine to tell us what to do? To give one interpretation that the world would be happy with. When have we ever been satisfied with that as human beings? We can’t even all stay in our homes when the government tells us to. We will always complain about the information at hand and how it’s been interpreted. That’s how the game was before. That’s how it is now. That’s how it’ll be the next time something changes. The game, like life, is imperfect. Just get on with it.
And now to the biggest games of the weekend. From the one that everyone’s eyes fixated, to the one that was simply the best game we’ve seen this season; Man City vs Liverpool was meant to be the first significant chapter of this compelling season, but unlike the showdown in Germany, it just didn’t provide us with the entertainment that we always feel like we deserve, or any implication to who is going to have the biggest say on the title race this year. The most entertaining League in the world becomes a drab affair where the stakes are too high to take risks. Despite my understanding that their jobs depend on moments like these, we don’t pay to watch a Chess match. And seeing Dortmund & Bayern go at each other toe-to-toe leaves a little more to be desired from these great sides (especially as we’ve been locked up in our house!)
And as we enter the international break (again!?), it allows for reflection for all. Owners and Chairpeople can look at their managers, fans can start to get worried (or dream). The media gets extremely bored and fills their newspaper outlets with rumours about jobs and pressure appears even more from the people that more often than not have no idea what they’re talking about. They almost live for this moment. Waiting for somebody’s failure to result in them losing their livelihood. It’s the nature of their career path but the concept has become something that people crave until they’re in their own precarious position. Pochettino randomly turning up on Sky Sports felt like a cheeky reminder that his LinkedIn page hasn’t been looked at for a while. They might have put a story around his reason for being there, but it reminds me of something his replacement at Tottenham did. Ensure that people remember the good things that you did. Let potential suitors know that you’ve learnt from the things that went wrong. Give an insight to make it look like you think about different team’s scenarios, despite the fact that it technically has nothing to do with you. It’s a wicked game but the nature of the beast seems to be “You get them how you lose them”.
Looking at some of the rest of the games, there’s always one player that gets signed with little fanfare, then after a few weeks people think “Why didn’t anyone else look at him?” This season that title has landed at the front door of Wesley Fofana. He’s slotted into that Leicester defence so seamlessly. After they played Arsenal, I thought “did Arsenal sign the wrong French centre back?” (Saliba could still turn out to be good and Gabriel has been). Half of the league needed a centre back and could easily have afforded him. He already looks like one of the better ones and has completely changed the expectations in the East Midlands.
And to the other team that added a young French centre back to their ranks, things don’t seem to be a rosy as first seemed in North London. The Arteta-ball seems to have started rubbing the fans up the wrong way (didn’t take too long). With Partey & Gabriel, Arsenal looked like they’ve started making some sound decisions. But the big contracts for under-performing players over 30, the obsession with the 3-4-3, building up on the left side, persisting with Aubameyang delivering the crosses rather than receiving them, decisions are getting weirder by the minute. Even the squad selections now look extremely questionable. The omission of Ozil is mind-boggling enough, but the rest of the creative players don’t seem to be getting a look in either. Where is the creativity that the Europa League has the pleasure of experiencing? Would it hurt to play Willock? Is Emile Smith-Rowe in permanent isolation? What does Willian offer that you can’t tell Pepe to do? People constantly compare Arteta to Guardiola but like a child learning how to drive with their parents, Mikel seems to have picked up the bad traits whilst not being able to imitate to good ones to the same level. A “Pep without pees”. There’s still a long way to go and a lot will be required to build this side to anything worth being proud of, but at the moment, it’s not much of a Partey at the Emirates.