Aside from the content of what he said, the Frenchman seemed almost as if he’d given up. If I were to leap to conclusions I would say that the fire had gone and he was playing out his last season in charge of Arsenal. In the post-match conference, we saw a Premier League manager admit that his team was not physically ready for the first game of the season. This should never be the case at the top of the game, but even if you know this, as a manager, why would you invite the negativity of admitting it? For starters it gives your opponents an edge, knowing that Arsenal can’t prepare their players in time for the new season but more to the point, what does it do for the fans? Supporters at the Emirates are verging on mutiny so admitting to them that you, as the manager, can’t prepare a team of professional athletes, (in the same boat as others with players playing at the Euros) to start the season in the right condition, is a sure sign of madness. If this wasn’t enough, Wenger went on to touch on how his team have ‘shown the mental qualities to fight back’. Do me a favour, Arsene. At 4-1 down the pressure is off – that’s not character. The character comes when you are pegged back to 1-1 and find a way to change the flow of the game back in your favour; not rallying when the game is all but lost.
While everyone is talking about the impetus the new TV deal has given the Premier League, it seems to have actually deflated Arsene Wenger. The all too predictable opening day defeat was this time administered by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, but it was Wenger’s post-match demeanour that was different.
For as much as Wenger’s post-match performance was lethargic and resigned, Klopp was insightful and enthusiastic. That’s to be expected, I hear you say, having won 4-3 away from home on the opening day, yet, Klopp was not all bells and whistles. ‘I had a big part to play in the excitement of the last 20 minutes,’ he said, in reference to his piggy-back celebration for the fourth goal. Despite the wonderful joy that his celebrations bring the game, the Liverpool manager realised that his over-exuberance can sometimes have a negative impact on his team. The complacency he feels that his carefree frolicking set in, seemed to lead to Arsenal’s improbable comeback, though it is this humility that will see him and his Liverpool team learn from their mistakes. We certainly seem in for an exciting season of ‘heavy metal’ football.
But beyond the familiar monotony of the Emirates mixed zone, we welcomed a new character to our cast of managers this season. Pep Guardiola, come on down. Sunderland at home may have seemed like the perfect start for the Spaniard yet the game gave the former Barcelona manager a reminder of the challenge he faces at the helm of Manchester City this season. ‘It was tough for everybody and that is why people say the Premier League is tough,’ he said of his first foray into English football. Though Sunderland put up stubborn resistance, you feel that much sterner tests will come and Pep’s press conferences may well get a lot fruitier as Mourinho et al wind up their mind games through the course of a gruelling season.
There may not have been an absolute nutcase like Nigel Pearson surface so far but we certainly seem to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to managers ready to speak their minds, this year. I don’t think these pages will be left searching for many stories.