In Arsenal’s recent 3-1 win against Burnley it was William Saliba’s excellent headed goal from a Leandro Trossard cross that particularly caught my attention. When I brought this up at the end of the game, what I learned was most interesting. Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta commented on Saliba’s 6ft 4ins advantage in the penalty area and said, “We are big lads! Willy is a real presence but he hasn’t yet showed that skill consistently and we are really working with him in training because he can be much more dominant in the penalty area and at the back and his goal against Burnley showed that. I congratulate my assistants who have worked tirelessly with Willy. We are the team that generates the most set pieces.” The facts support Arteta’s remarks because after 12 league matches Arsenal have won 153 aerial contests across the pitch and had 21 headers at goal. That is way ahead of last season. This physical presence has not been seen at the Emirates Stadium for many years. The latest regular starting defensive line-up has been White, Saliba, Gabriel and Tomiyasu which is Arsenal’s tallest ever defence in the Premier League.
Chelsea welcome international break
Chelsea are hoping the international break will give several players a chance to recover from injury. Levi Colwell is the latest name to withdraw from the England squad and he returned to the Blue’s training facility where the medical team are working on his shoulder injury.
Malo Gusto withdrew from the French Under-21 national squad with a knee ligament problem. Christopher Nkunku is expected to return for Chelsea’s game against Newcastle on 25th November as he feels optimistic about his recovery also from a knee problem.
However, Reece James also withdrew from the England squad because of recent fitness problems and he is trying to fully recover back at Chelsea.
Chelsea tell me they are feeling confident about signing Victor Osimhen who they view as 39-year-old Thiago Silva’s eventual replacement.
Before that they have to face a possible investigation regarding alleged financial irregularities during the Roman Abramovich era which could see the Blue’s facing a possible points deduction. The investigation will centre around alleged payments to agents and players’ associates.
Update on Eriksen and Hojlund
I checked in with Manchester United this week for an update on the injuries to Christian Eriksen and Rasmus Hojlund. Eriksen was replaced by Mason Mount in the first half of the match against Luton. Hojlund had to give way to Anthony Martial late in the game after playing with increasing pain. Both pulled out of the Danish Euro 24 qualifying squad this week. I am told Eriksen will be out for about a month with a knee injury but the medical team at Old Trafford are hopeful that Hojlund will be fit for duty quickly and is responding well to muscle strain treatment and he should return for the match against Everton on November 26th. United also play Galatasaray in Turkey three days later and that match is a must win if the club are to progress any further in the Champions League.
Arteta tells Ramsdale to stay with Gunners
Aaron Ramsdale is undoubtedly a first class goalkeeper but he has not started a game for Arsenal since August 3rd. Now England manager Gareth Southgate had told Aaron that if he is not playing first team football regularly his place in the England squad is not guaranteed. Aaron has now openly talked of leaving the Gunners in the January transfer window and several clubs are showing interest already. Mikel Arteta has spoken with Ramsdale and warned him that if he leaves it would be a bad mistake. He said the situation could change by March and said this week, “My door is always open to speak about any player…The role you have in August might be very different to the one you have in March. The team has certain needs and that has to be accomplished. And you can’t do that with six, 10 or 14 players. It is impossible. You need everyone and Aaron has a really important role in the team. We want Aaron with us, that’s for sure.”
Ratcliffe’s United deal still not done
Things rarely go to plan for Manchester United at the moment. I can tell you that despite the much publicised purchase of 25% of United’s shares by Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe the £1.3 billion deal documents have not yet been signed. I am told that next week is a possibility but the long drawn out sale process began last November on the 22nd. The much criticised and despised Glazers once again did themselves no good when neither of the majority share-holding brothers turned up for the club memorial to United’s most famous legend Sir Bobby Charlton – yet another reason why the supporters will continue to protest against the Glazer’s ownership who, they say, have no real interest in the club except for making money.
Top of Ratcliffe’s agenda is his determination that Erik Ten Hag and Jadon Sancho must end their feud and he will instruct the coach to take the lead to patch things up between the two.
VAR slowing up the game and accused of making errors
With so much trouble surrounding VAR at the moment and several managers getting yellow cards for over the top behaviour on the touchline, when decisions do not go their way, there is disturbing news regarding the accuracy record of the Video system. The number of VAR mistakes has risen by almost 50% since the beginning of the season. The statistics have been assembled by a Premier League independent panel and show 16 errors so far which is five more than last season at this point in time. The length of time taken for decisions in the VAR studio is also under attack as games are now regularly playing ten minutes of extra time because of stoppages which slow down a game, leaves the fans frustrated and affects player concentration. Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta described Newcastle’s winning goal against the Gunners last weekend as “embarrassing” and a “disgrace”. Because of that he now faces punishment in the form of a touchline ban and fine but other Premier League managers such as West Ham’s David Moyes have supported Arteta’s comments. Moyes also criticised the FA because, he says, if coaches express their feelings and opinions they face automatic punishment.
Harry Maguire back on top
While I was in Manchester this week I took time to speak to United club specialists about Harry Maguire. United are going through a difficult period with coach Erik Ten Hag under constant pressure to produce results. One player who is no stranger to bad publicity and pressure of being verbally attacked is Harry Maguire. Harry was stripped of the captaincy, booed by his own supporters and almost sold to West Ham a few months ago. I know from personal experience that Harry is the ultimate professional. He did not complain, threw no tantrums, took the loss of the captaincy in his stride and buckled down to hard work, physically and mentally when he was dropped from the starting eleven last season.
With club injuries to Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw and Jonny Evans, Harry’s form has turned around completely and he is now one of Erik Ten Hag’s first names on the teamsheet. Ten Hag’s fallout with world class defender Raphael Verane (denied by Ten Hag by the way) opened the door for Victor Lindelof to partner Maguire and it worked well with the Swede scoring against Luton. Maguire was in top form and was voted Man of the Match and despite one or two minor lapses he controlled the defence with authority. Harry has the final word, “I had to bide my time and be patient but I broke down with illness and injuries twice so I never got the rhythm and run of games that I needed to prove myself to the manager, I’ve got that now.”