FRIDAY’S BIG HEADLINES
Arsenal's season on a knife edge
At around 10:20pm last night, while attempting to analyse a frankly appalling 1-1 draw with Slava Prague in the Europa League quarter-finals , Martin Keown made the bold claim that Arsenal “need someone to punch them in the face.”
Why it would make sense for Lukaku to return to Chelsea
The queue is apparently stretching all the way down Holloway Road and halfway down Upper Street this morning.
In truth, Arsenal don’t need someone to punch them in the face. They are perfectly capable of doing it themselves. Or shooting themselves in the foot. Or whatever analogy you favour to convey the sheer terror of being that is Arsenal. A life lived in the knowledge that anytime, anywhere, you are capable of doing something very stupid and entirely counter to your interests.
There were many such moments last night. The first came around an hour before kick-off when Mikel Arteta named his team with Willian and Alexandre Lacazette starting and Gabriel Martinelli and Arsenal’s captain, most highly remunerated player and best goalscorer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, on the bench for the most important game of the season.
After a dreary first half only briefly enlivened by a genuinely atrocious one-on-one miss from Bukayo Saka, there followed a dreary start to the second half only briefly enlivened by a genuinely atrocious one-on-one miss from Alexandre Lacazette. Then Arteta took far too long to change things when it was apparent this approach was not working for Arsenal, Aubameyang missed a sitter and, after Nicolas Pepe did manage to find the back of the net, came the coup de grace.
In injury time, and holding onto a slender 1-0 lead, Arsenal somehow contrived to concede a corner from this position:
Arsenal were duly punished when Tomas Holes found the, er, holes in the Arsenal defence to score at the back post. And a useful win became a very precarious result heading into the second leg of the quarter-final of the only competition they can win this season, and the only viable route to the Champions League.
The post-match arguments raged with an intensity that Arsenal’s players could only dream of. Was it Arteta’s fault for picking the wrong team and not knowing he’s allowed to make substitutions before 70 minutes? Was it the fault of the players for missing so many chances? The answer will depend on whether you are an Artetista or #ArtetaOut. But both really miss the point.
The fact is that Arsenal as a general concept is to blame. That vortex of comedic disappointment and cruelty that is now so integral to the make-up of this once great club. No matter how much he learned from Pep Guardiola, no matter how formidable his hair is, Mikel Arteta seemingly can’t escape the gravitational pull of the never-ending Banter Era.
United cruise, but Ole's annoyed
By total contrast, Manchester United are set fair for the semi-finals after an unfussy 2-0 away win against Granada which means only an imposition of Arsenal-esque proportions can really stop them making the semi-finals.
Marcus Rashford opened the scoring and Bruno Fernandes wrapped it up in injury-time with yet another penalty, his 19th since joining the club a little over a year ago.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing with Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay all managing to pick up yellow cards and suspensions for the second leg.
"It was not a perfect night," Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told BT Sport. "
We got three yellow cards and three suspensions. 2-0 is very good result. We know how difficult it is to come to Spain. We've got to play well to get a result.
"They [Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes] have been exceptional, so important for us. It was a very good run by Rashford, takes the ball fantastically. Bruno is so confident on penalties even though the keeper almost saved it."
'Top, top quality' - Solskjaer lauds Rashford after United win over Granada
Social media boycott gathers pace
Yesterday afternoon, Swansea City announced they would be boycotting social media platforms for a week. By the evening, they had been joined by Rangers and Birmingham City in a heartening show of solidarity for the players who are subjected to torrents of racial abuse on these platforms almost every day now.
This kind of action, inspired in part by Thierry Henry removing himself from social media platforms for the same reasons, needs to be taken to force some kind of reckoning by the tech giants, whose inaction around the racism on their platforms is shameful.
The Times reports that Premier League managers are getting behind the idea – and honestly that is what is really needed to make a real dent in Instagram or Twitter’s metrics. If the biggest clubs in the world remove their content from these platforms, you would imagine that some kind of change would be swift.
If not, then wider boycotts should be considered as it will rapidly get to the stage where engaging on these platforms will be morally questionable.
IN OTHER NEWS
Apparently there was a whole football match between Ajax and Roma last night but The Warm-Up can’t even tell you the score because it is so transfixed by this magnificent clip of a ball boy absolutely lamping Riccardo Calafiori with the ball when he was trying to time waste for the Italian club.
Even better, Calafiori took the incident in good spirits – does The Warm-Up even detect some grudging admiration here? “Probably seeing an opponent wasting time would’ve irritated me as well,” he said. “I don’t say I respect him, but it’s something that can happen”
Okay, Roma won 2-1 in Amsterdam.
What else could we look back fondly on today but the infamous night that the self-styled King of all the Ball Boys got into a tangle with Eden Hazard when Chelsea visited Swansea?
The best thing about this amazing episode was the fact that the ball boy in question, one Charlie Morgan, had set his stall out pretty clearly on the morning of the game.
Friday Night Football is a big one at the bottom of the table with Wolves, who aren’t mathematically safe, taking on Fulham, who are three points off safety. We will bring that one to you live at 8pm.
The King of all the Warmer Uppers is back for his regular appearance on Monday. Andi Thomas is #needed #for #deconstuctingtheweekendsfootballwithasidewaysglance
‘He is a key member of our squad’ – Arteta confirms Xhaka will stay after Chelsea pre-season defeat
Rashford out for 12 weeks after shoulder surgery confirmed