March 7, 2017

FREE KICKS: Wenger’s gamble blows up on Gunners

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

For a manager that has been around for as long as he has, Arsene Wenger should’ve known better.

In the midst of a contract dispute with Alexis Sanchez, the Frenchman decided to bench the Chilean for the start of Saturday’s match against Liverpool.

It went about as bad as you would think it would. By halftime, the Reds were up 2-0 and looking like a safe bet to take a crucial three points from their rival for a Champions League spot.

Sanchez was shown on the bench repeatedly and, seemingly more often than not, in a playful mood. Pretty much the opposite reaction you would want to see a player on the bench have while you’re losing on the field.

When the teams came out for the second half, Wenger seemingly made things even worse, creating a lose-lose situation: He subbed on Sanchez.

The Gunners suddenly looked like a better team and pulled back a goal. It reinforced just how important the forward is to the team and how much Wenger botched this by sitting him for the start of this crucial match.

Arsenal ended up losing the match and likely losing their best player in the long run. If this is it for Wenger, he’s going out in flames.

While some will speculate that this season will indeed be the Frenchman’s swansong, I’d bet that he tells the board he’ll be retiring after next season, giving himself one more kick at the can.

Whether his team or reputation ever recovers from this failed gamble remains to be seen, but fourth place might actually be the goal this season for Arsenal, not just the door prize.


Remember last week, when we said the Harry Kane would be better if he were a more consistent scorer and was able to step up against better teams?

Forget it.

This week, Kane bagged a brace against Everton to keep Tottenham second in the table. That’s five goals in two games, for those who are counting – I’m sure there are many of you.

Perhaps the best part of his performance wasn’t even the goals – though the first was certainly highlight-reel worthy, a screamer from well outside the box, which is something we don’t often see from Kane – it was his handshake with Dele Alli. The routine that duo put on with their hands might require more practice than the time they put in for training.


Thanks to Sanchez’s benching, there wasn’t much ink spilled on the fact that Mesut Ozil was at home with the flu for Saturday’s match. Ozil is another Gunner in a contract dispute and with Arsenal’s notorious stands against overpaying talent, seeing an Arsenal lineup without Sanchez and Ozil could be just an early preview for next season … Leicester City is suddenly unstoppable. A second straight 3-1 win and the defending champs are getting further away from the relegation zone … Riyad Mahrez scored a beauty that looked straight out of last season. Both he and Jamie Vardy could be great fantasy pickups for the stretch run … Two other teams saving their bacon from the relegation battle with some key wins: Crystal Palace and Swansea. Palace scored a nice upset over West Brom while the Swans are looking motivated under Paul Clement … Middlesbrough went through the month of February without scoring a Premier League goal and started March in similar fashion. Boro are now in the relegation zone and have just 19 goals in 27 matches … It looks like potential England No. 1 Jack Butland could be returning soon for Stoke City. The keeper has been sidelined for almost a year after breaking his ankle … It didn’t take long for Romelu Lukaku to break the tie with Duncan Ferguson as Everton’s top scorer. The 23-year-old Belgian is now top of the charts after scoring against Spurs … With Atlanta United and Minnesota United FC joining MLS this season, the North American league now boasts more ‘Uniteds’ than the Premier League, which has just two, Manchester United and West Ham United. I guess it really is the United States … Fantasy owners that have Chelsea defender must be steamed that the Blues let in a meaningless goal to West Ham in the 92nd minute. That’s the only real impact the late marker had on the game that the league leaders won. The Monday win also put Chelsea back 10 points up on second-place Spurs.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic had just about the most eventful game a player could have without being sent off or scoring a goal against Bournemouth.

After getting his head stepped on – in what looked like it could’ve been a deliberate act – by Tyrone Mings, Ibrahimovic retaliated by throwing a nice elbow into the defender’s head when the two went up for a ball a few minutes later.

Ibra of course claimed that he had outjumped Mings and that the Cherries defender leaped into his elbow, but we all know exactly what happened.

The funny part is what happened after these two plays: Neither player received a caution, but Bournemouth’s Andrew Surnam picked up his second yellow for going after the United striker, putting his side a man down with more than a half to play.

It didn’t get much better for Ibra, though. After the break, he missed a penalty and also picked up a yellow card.

Oh, and somewhere along the way he gave the referee a strict talking to in classic Zlatan fashion.

We hope you didn’t hang on to him for your fantasy team with a blank last week, minus-1 point this week and a blank next weekend.

There’s also the matter of whether there will be additional punishment for either

Mings or Ibrahimovic. The FA has charged the duo with violent conduct, which should lead to a three-game ban for each – at least. In Mings’ case, it’s safe to expect maybe a bit more.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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