It’s been an odd week of Premier League action. With just a few teams still involved in the FA Cup, teams have been playing league matches throughout the week, leaving just over half the league still with a game in hand. Champions Manchester City were welcomed onto the Etihad pitch by a guard of honour by Swansea and thanked the Welsh side by putting 5 goals past them. Stoke and Southampton drew their matches, moving them closer to the Championship, while West Brom followed up their win over Manchester United by coming back from 2 goals down to draw at home to Liverpool, who still had something to cheer this weekend as Mo Salah was named PFA Player of the Year.
Possibly more important than the football this week was the announcement that this season will be Arsene Wenger’s last in charge at Arsenal.
End of an era
Though results over the last 2 seasons have suggested change was coming and despite me even predicting as much, it was still a shock when the news broke on Friday that Arsene Wenger will be stepping down as manager of Arsenal at the end of the season. Having taken over at Arsenal on 1st October 1996, he has been the Arsenal manager through the entire time I have been watching football! I doubt the Premier League will ever see another manager have such a long tenure with a single club.
The results and standings may not have been to the level Arsenal – and Wenger – would have hoped over the last couple of seasons, but at a time like this it is important to look back at his achievements with the Gunners. These last 2 seasons are the only times Arsenal have not finished in the top 4 of the Premier League under Wenger, with the Gunners always finishing in the top 2 until 2005/06, while he has won 3 league titles (1997/98, 2001/02 and 2003/4), 7 FA Cups (1997/98, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2016/17) and 7 Community Shields (1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, 2015 and 2017). “The Invincibles” of 2003/04 remain the only team to go an entire 38-match Premier League campaign without losing a single match. Individually, Wenger has been named Premier League Manager of the Season in 1998, 2002 and 2004 and was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He has always sought to create teams who play attractive football and has maintained a high level of success throughout the years with only a handful of big-money signings, while also seeing the club through their move from Highbury to the Emirates in 2006.
Unfortunately for Wenger, his long tenure has perhaps harmed Arsenal in recent years as they have been unable to adapt to the football played by some teams, with organised, physical defences often denying them points they should not be dropping and expensive attacking teams exposing an inconsistent defence. For this reason, I do not think we will see managers getting anywhere near Wenger’s 22 years with a single club moving forward as managers will be changed to freshen things up once a team does not adapt. It is a credit to Arsenal that in such a cut-throat business they have stuck by Arsene Wenger despite the lack of silverware between 2005 and 2014. I can’t imagine any of the other classic “Big 4” teams would go more than a couple of seasons without silverware before changing manager. There has been a lot of fan hostility towards him in recent seasons, but I sincerely hope that they continue to use these final games as a way to thank Wenger for his service to the club over the year.
This summer, the focus turns to who will replace him… I don’t envy that manager at all!
The king has been crowned
It will come as no surprise to anyone that Mohammed Salah has won the PFA Player of the Year award for 2017/18. The Egyptian has been in fine form this season and looked a completely different player to the one who struggled for minutes at Chelsea.
He may not have had the best of performances at the weekend against West Brom, but he still managed to score another goal, leaving him with 31 goals from 33 Premier League games, level with Shearer, Ronaldo and Suarez for the most in a 38-game league season. I can’t imagine many people would bet against him breaking that record against Stoke. In fact at £34m he has already been worth less than £1m for each goal he has scored in all competitions, good value for money in the modern game!
When Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona many fans may have been worried, but Salah has more than picked up the slack and has been a big part in one of the most destructive attacks in the league this season, providing 9 assists to go along with those goals. Liverpool’s 80 goals scored leaves them comfortably second in the league rankings, and Salah has been directly involved (scored/assisted) half of them! I can’t even begin to imagine how many others involved him playing a big part in the build-up.
The question now will become what happens going forward? Will he have a sophomore slump in 2018/19 or will he be able to keep up the performances, even if the numbers drop slightly (I can’t imagine anyone being able to keep scoring so regularly over 2 seasons)? More than that, how long until Real Madrid or Barcelona inevitably come calling? And how long can Liverpool keep hold of him when they do?
A long-awaited goal
931 days. That’s how long Danny Ings went without scoring ahead of his 4th minute opener against West Brom. He’s had 2 serious knee injuries since moving from Burnley to Liverpool and as such was making only his second start under Jurgen Klopp. As well as his goal, he also had another great chance and should have also had a penalty when he was impeded by Craig Dawson trying to reach a ball through.
Ings remains a quality player and at 25 years old he can still be a star in the league if given the chance to play regularly, but despite Klopp backing him to start scoring I can’t see him getting the minutes he deserves with Roberto Firmino ahead of him in the pecking order and the front 3 being so effective as a group. There are very few top class English strikers so regular football could easily see Ings pushing for a spot in the England squad. I really think that Ings would benefit from a move away this summer to get his career back on track. But where could he go?
Spurs could do with another reliable goal scorer to back up Harry Kane, but that leaves Ings in the same situation as he is in now. The rest of the Big 6 are sorted up front or will be looking for more expensive options. In my opinion, the best spots for him would be the teams currently occupying 7th to 10th: Burnley, Leicester, Everton and Newcastle. All of these teams will be looking to compete for the spots outside the top 6 and a striker who can score 15-20 goals a season would be a huge benefit. Of those, I would see Burnley and Everton as the most attractive options. Burnley are Ings’ former club so he is used to the environment and 0Sean Dyche’s style of management, while I’m sure the fans would love to have back a player who was their top scorer in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons. Everton on paper probably have the strongest of the squads and Ings would certainly benefit from the calibre of players providing him with the ball.
Personally, I’d suggest he pick Everton, they have had a poor season but I would expect them to be more competitive next year, whereas Burnley’s smaller squad could struggle to repeat their heroics of this season. That said, if Burnley do manage to make it into the Europa League, the chance of European football would be a huge draw and really help his aspirations. A return to his former club to help them in Europe would be a wonderful story heading into next season.
Round 36 predictions:
Liverpool v Stoke City – Liverpool win
Burnley v Brighton & Hove Albion – Burnley win
Crystal Palace v Leicester City – Draw
Huddersfield Town v Everton – Everton win
Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion – Draw
Southampton v AFC Bournemouth – Draw
Swansea City v Chelsea – Chelsea win
West Ham United v Manchester City – City win
Manchester United v Arsenal – United win
Tottenham Hotspur v Watford – Spurs win