March 21, 2017

FREE KICKS: The end for Arsene?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Never has it looked more clear that we are nearing the end for Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal.

Even before his side fell to a struggling West Brom team, there was already tension in the air – literally and figuratively. Yes, there were actually duelling banners pulled behind airplanes during Saturday’s game.

Criticism has been heaped on the Frenchman for the team’s inability to grow and its failure to recapture its former glory. The recent contract battles with stars Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez aren’t helping either. You have to wonder if all of this drama is wearing on the players, who looked disinterested against the Baggies, conceding two Michael Dawson headers on corners that should’ve been defended much better.

Arsenal now sits sixth in the league and though the Gunners have two games in hand on fourth-place Liverpool, they’re six points back of that crucial Champions League spot.

Post-game, Wenger commented on his role with the club, saying: “I know what I will do in my future and will let you know soon. You will see.”

If that doesn’t sound like a man getting ready to walk away, I don’t know what does.

Of course, what Wenger does next is still up in the air. He could say he’ll retire at the end of the season. He could stay on as Arsenal’s technical director, moving upstairs away from the sidelines. Or he could leave and take a job elsewhere.

Right now, it would be a shock if Wenger is still Arsenal’s manager when next season starts, but anything could happen.

We did say a while ago that Wenger might say next year will be his farewell tour, a la Sir Alex Ferguson, but at this point, there’s no telling if he could even make it another season without getting sacked.


He might have done basically all of his work after Hull City went down to 10 men, but that doesn’t discount Romelu Lukaku’s performance.

He bagged a brace and picked up a nice assist on a clever chipped throughball to Enner Valencia on Saturday.

This came after reports broke midweek that Lukaku has refused to sign a contract extension with the Toffees. What this means for his future with the club is still uncertain, but at the very least, it puts his name front and centre of all transfer rumours coming up this summer.

At just 22 years old and having proven himself as a top striker in the biggest league in the world, he would have no shortage of suitors.

And playing this well only helps his case for a big, new contract from whoever is willing to splash the cash for him.


That was a bit of a harsh red for Tom Huddlestone. It was a mistimed tackle and deserved a yellow moreso than a red … About the red card itself: Since when do referees use circle red cards? I had never seen that before … Harry Kane is out for six weeks due to that ankle injury he suffered in a FA Cup game. I’m Spurs fans are glad that Mauricio Pochettino risked the club’s top scorer to beat lowly Millwall. Tottenham did get by Southampton 2-1 without Kane, but it may not be too lucky over the next month or so … Does anybody do clever free kicks better than Chelsea? Willian seems to be especially canny about taking them and did again this week, going shortside against Stoke City … Chelsea remains 10 points up on Spurs with 10 games to play. It remains to be seen if the Blues will drop that many points through the remainder of the season … Another big win for Big Sam’s Crystal Palace. That’s three on the trot as the Eagles look to escape the relegation scrap … Middlesbrough fired manager Aitor Karanka, but couldn’t get the new manager bump on the weekend, losing to a Manchester United squad without Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba. Well, United might’ve had a double-agent in the game, seeing how former Red Devils keeper Victor Valdes conveniently slipped to give up the third and final goal after his side had clawed one back … Sunderland remains bottom of the table after a 0-0 draw in which it blew a big handful of chances. It’s looking like this is finally going to be the season where the Black Cats run out of lives … Adam Lallana’s 2017 form was summed up perfectly on that horrendous miss against Manchester City. And isn’t it getting a bit too cliché about how the Reds only get up for the big competition, drawing against the Sky Blues? … Is the daylight savings time change fantastic for us in North America for watching European football right now? Watching Liverpool and Manchester City at 12:30 p.m. on a Sunday was amazing.


There’s no stopping Leicester City, it seems.

Since sacking Claudio Raneiri, the Foxes have won all four games they’ve played, including a 2-0 victory against Sevilla that propelled them into the Champions League quarterfinals. In fact, the defending Premier League champs are the only English side left in the competition after Manchester City bombed out in Monaco.

And with a 3-2 win against West Ham, Leicester is now six points clear of relegation and climbing up the table like crazy. It is actually closer to ninth place now than 17th, which is pretty crazy considering how poor this team was playing just a month ago.

But Riyad Mahrez is back in amazing form, twisting and turning on the ball and showing his world-class abilty. Jamie Vardy is a menace, without the ball and without. And Craig Shakespeare – who had the caretaker tag removed last week – is doing a solid job as manager, getting his side to score at will.

While we’re not expecting the Foxes to upset Atletico Madrid, or to see Leicester climb up into a Europa League spot, this turnaround is promising for the future.

Perhaps next season we could see the Fabulous Foxes fighting near the top of the table again.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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