Swan Dive

It’s come to the point of the season where the excitement of it being a new Premier League season has pretty much evaporated and it’s now a case of win your game and hope and pray that the others drop points. It’s not quite crunch time yet for all, however it feels closer to that time for us rather than the league leaders Chelsea, they have a little cushion where we amongst the others around us, do not.

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Sp*rs played first and wiped the floor with the ever useless Tony Pulis not willing to do anyone any favours. This meant that we would need to win at the very least  as their goal difference looked likely to get one up on us. Our game started a little slowly but not quite as sluggishly as it did vs Bournemouth and Preston. It simply looked as though they would try and hit us on the counter and look to try and take advantage of set pieces. Normally Swansea are a team who like to keep the ball on the deck and play, which they did to a degree but it looked as though Clement had them set up to try and play to our weaknesses. Thankfully we didn’t succumb to their set up and managed to get in front with our first piece of flowing football. Ozil and Ramsey involved before Alexis provided the cross for Ozil to inadvertently put into the path of the man who just can’t stop scoring. I still maintain that we play better football without him on the pitch until the last 20 minutes but he’s proving his worth with every game he plays so I for one hope his injury isn’t too severe. Ki then went down in the box and at first glance I thought “balls, that’s a pen” but referee Mike Jones booked him for diving. It took the 3rd replay to truly see what had happened and from that replay you could see that Ki had kicked out at Koscielny in order to try and make it look like a penalty. A great call from the referee for our benefit, for what feels like an age. But good officiating nonetheless. We got a couple of own goals in the second half thanks to great work from Ozil and Iwobi, when we really intensified the pressure on Swansea, followed by a really instinctive and tidy finish from Alexis to complete the rout. Swansea really look like they’re cooked for the season, I’m not sure they have what it takes to get out and are well and truly in free fall. 4-0 and we closed the gap to the top to 5 points, albeit temporarily, and put real pressure on Man City, Man Utd and Liverpool for their games on the following day.

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The main talking point was Alexis Sanchez’s reaction to being substituted. He just wants to play football every day of the week and it’s a quite refreshingly innocent approach to the game. Ozil also hates coming off the pitch no matter the state of the game but he tends to look like he understands the bigger picture and is happy to take the rest as he knows Arsene knows the team best. Alexis on the other hand doesn’t think about things like this as he’s clearly a more black and white person. Football = happiness, no football = frustration. It’s that simple. He’s not a complicated bloke to keep happy really and no matter how people joke about dog banners and other such, but he’s clearly intent on playing as much football as possible. He realises it’s a gift that isn’t common to any and everyone, he realises that his time in the game isn’t everlasting and he loves being the main man in a team that plays good football. Nothing lasts forever and he knows this. I don’t think it’s as convoluted as some put it, in that he’s looking for a better position on his contract situation. He’s been annoyed at being substituted from day one. He looked visibly cheesed off from the bench in his first ever game for us vs Man City in the Community Shield as he was taken off at half time to preserve his energy. It’s only been magnified recently simply because it coincides with his contract being up coupled with the fact that we have a slightly more trustworthy squad compared to when he arrived so we can sometimes afford to give him a rest. In any case we won 4-0 and the 3 points were made slightly sweeter because of the clean sheet. Yes Chelsea also won, but they won 3-0. We’ve clawed back a goal in terms of goal difference and added a further one to the goals scored column too. Silver linings and all that.

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Sunday’s football was more serenely enjoyable in the know that no matter what the results would be, either Utd, Liverpool or both would be dropping points with us having done our job. The day started splendidly with Everton royally bashing City 4-0 at Goodison Park. I didn’t catch the game, however on seeing Pep’s post match interview he seemed to be resigned in his acceptance of being out of the title race. There’s still such a long way to go but I think rather than deflecting from his squad he just looked disappointed in a surprised way to almost suggest that he didn’t think the squad was that bad. This was followed by Man Utd and Liverpool playing out a 1-1 draw and Pogba showed he was a dab hand at the beautiful game (I’m not even sorry). Both managers said the other was too negative in their approach. Klopp went with the: we played with intensity and got tired so their long balls were unfair, with almost an incredulous derision at another team trying to take advantage of one of his teams weaknesses and Mourinho went with: they were clever, they wasted time and slowed the game down. They were happy with a point, with disdain for an approach that he has made his own over the years. Glass houses. Stones. You get the gist. Overall it was a pretty positive weekend for us and we have two home games coming up that can help push us on before our showdown at Stamford Bridge, however we will need to be winning these two if that game is to be considered a showdown. Else it may just be ‘too little to late’ territory.

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One final thing that just needs to be discussed is China. More and more top level footballers are heading over to China to ply their trade in a quite horrendous league. I’ve seen a few games purely out of curiosity and I can’t quite believe my eyes. The pitches are horrific, the football is long ball and the technical level is so so poor, however it’s only a matter of time until this all changes. When Abramovich took over at Chelsea they were all over the place to begin with but after a few years they got it right and the trophies followed. With China, they will continue to throw money at the problem and the problem will soon become the future of football. This won’t affect the big players of today as much – because they all want to win their respective league titles and the Champions League. However it will affect the way that future generations plan their careers. Imagine being a decent prospect at the age of 18 and a Chinese League scout has seen you as a potentially cheaper option than a homegrown player (we know this exists already – look at English player transfers in the Premier League! It’s why foreign talent is easier to find!), what will that young man do when confronted with the prospect of say: 1) Play for West Brom reserves and break into the first team over the next 1-2 years, whilst earning £5k a week (I’m being generous here) or 2) Go and play for a new up and coming club, in a new country for £50k a week as your career could well be a short one in the UK and quite frankly might not even take off? The risks of success in through the traditional term of ‘hard graft’ is a concept that is dead to today’s millennial generation. Everything needs to happen ‘now’ and football wont be averse to this soon enough. Why wouldn’t you as an 18 year old go and make enough money in 2-3 years to not have to ever worry to work again? The world is changing and football has no exemption from this, it’s well and truly fallen into the beginning of the cycle. The Costa stuff may (or may not) well be click bait however the larger issue of the money in China isn’t one that is going away anytime soon…One to keep an eye on.

Have a great week folks.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

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