April 21, 2021

Man Utd


MARTIN SAMUEL: Arsenal must build around Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe

10 min read

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel, Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey all started, but Arsenal were without many of their best players against Liverpool.

Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Reiss Nelson to name three, with Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah on the bench.

What Arsenal have going for them this season is youth. Add Kieran Tierney and Martin Odegaard and the makings of a good team appear.

Arsenal were missing Bukayo Saka for their 3-0 defeat against Liverpool on Saturday evening

Arsenal were missing Bukayo Saka for their 3-0 defeat against Liverpool on Saturday evening

A pity about Matteo Guendouzi because he had potential, too, if his head hadn’t been bigger than his hair. The future actually looks quite bright. It is the present that must worry Mikel Arteta — what remains of this year, and next.

How do Arsenal elevate themselves from mid-table without sacrificing the very players that represent their hope of success?

The suggestion that the club might sell Saka, say, to finance a rebuilding programme appears utterly self-defeating. Saka is the rebuilding programme. He is one of the few individuals worth building around. 

Arsenal’s top-level recruitment has been largely dismal, with millions invested on new contracts for dilettantes, too. Yet development is good. Arsenal can produce players, they just can’t spot them.

To then rob one department of its successes, to support the acquisition of more questionable recruits is madness. Do Arsenal really plan to finance the next Willian by losing a player that, at any other club, would be carefully nurtured and prized?

It was Arsene Wenger who once identified what set Manchester United apart on their way to becoming a Treble-winning side. It was the emergence of a group of six players, close to first-team ready, that could be supplemented by investment.

Yet what if United had sold Paul Scholes or David Beckham to cover the purchase of Jaap Stam or Dwight Yorke? It wouldn’t have worked.

Arsenal might not have as much raw promise as the famed Class of 92, but they have four players that one can see regularly playing first-team football, plus Martinelli, who was recruited from a Brazilian third-tier club, Ituano.

The Gunners must rebuild around talented youngsters Saka and Emile Smith Rowe (pictured)

The Gunners must rebuild around talented youngsters Saka and Emile Smith Rowe (pictured) 

That’s a start. That’s a youth influx similar to the one Chelsea hope to build on, and bigger than has yet been seen at Manchester City, Liverpool or even Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Tierney is 23, Odegaard 22. Do Arsenal have the financial clout to keep him? Will he want a season without access to the Champions League — or maybe even European football? 

Odegaard may get better offers. Yet at Arsenal there is a strong chance of first-team football, and a project to invest in, built on youth and hope. It may require a leap of faith, some patience. 

Yet Arsenal are currently a poor 10th. What’s the alternative? This?


People think Jose Mourinho says too much. Sometimes, he doesn’t say enough.

Why exactly did he claim Toby Alderweireld did not turn up in time to complete the Premier League’s Covid protocols after playing for Belgium this week?

Pictures show he was present on Thursday, and Friday, too. Indeed, of the Belgians involved in the 8-0 win over Belarus, five played on Saturday, including Youri Tielemans for Leicester against Manchester City.

Yet Mourinho stated Alderweireld’s first appearance at Tottenham’s training ground was Saturday, ruling him out of the Sunday match at Newcastle. The same for Serge Aurier, who played for Ivory Coast against Ethiopia. He didn’t get back in time, apparently either. 

Yet pictures show him participating in training on Friday and Nicolas Pepe, a substitute in the same match for Ivory Coast, played for Arsenal against Liverpool. ‘I don’t want to say indiscipline,’ said Mourinho. ‘It is what it is.’

Jose Mourinho's comments about Toby Alderweireld and Serge Aurier simply don't add up

Jose Mourinho’s comments about Toby Alderweireld and Serge Aurier simply don’t add up

Really, then what is it? Logistical mismanagement, economy with the truth or two players who couldn’t be bothered to go through the necessary procedures for one of Tottenham’s most important matches of the season? It makes no sense. 

If the club issued the correct instructions regarding schedules and deadlines, Mourinho has every right to be incensed. Particularly as it was Tottenham’s defence that collapsed so calamitously at Newcastle. Yet the evidence contradicts his words.

Those two points surrendered could be the difference between Champions League football next season, and another year in an inferior competition. The financial impact on Tottenham would be huge. 

Someone, somewhere, should be absolutely furious. Someone, presumably, who knows what went on.


Trent Alexander-Arnold’s fabulous cross for Diogo Jota on Saturday night was widely noted as his riposte to Gareth Southgate. This affords England’s manager a little too much credit.

Alexander-Arnold did not play the pass of the game because he was fired up by his international exclusion, he did it because, well, that’s what he can do. 

And while he hasn’t been doing it as much this season, there is undoubtedly more chance of him replicating that ball for England if he is in the squad rather than at home. 

It'd be close to an act of vandalism to leave Trent Alexander-Arnold out of the England squad

It’d be close to an act of vandalism to leave Trent Alexander-Arnold out of the England squad

No, he is not a better defender than Kyle Walker and if that is what Southgate values above all it is a hard battle to win. 

Yet to not even be able to call on Alexander-Arnold in an emergency is close to an act of vandalism. Certainly for a sensible soul like Southgate.


Edinson Cavani has scored seven goals in 27 games for Manchester United. It’s good, but not great — certainly given the anxiety that appears to surround his possible return to South America. 

United are trying to persuade Cavani not to explore interest from Boca Juniors and, if successful, would expect to pay another £9million in wages. And, yes, it could be argued who could they buy of his class for that money? 

Yet, equally, with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood already on the books, young prospects coming through the ranks, and a new striker likely to arrive in the summer, how many forwards do United need? 

Particularly as, if the opinions of Cavani’s father Luis are to be believed, his son does not care for living in England, and resents the ban over the ‘negrito’ post. 

The other strikers may learn from him, and he will have a greater role to play with Martial now injured, but Cavani needs to make an impact in the remainder of the season if he is not to be just another expensive hired hand, passing through.

Edinson Cavani is running out of time to prove he is not just another expensive hired hand

Edinson Cavani is running out of time to prove he is not just another expensive hired hand


What possessed David Moyes to talk about West Ham considering selling Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek? 

On the eve of Monday’s match with Wolves, in which victory would propel the club into the top four, Moyes discussed the possibility of cashing in on the midfield that has driven this unexpected season.

‘I hope we don’t get any offers but if we do, like any other club, we would consider them,’ he declared. ‘With Declan, it would take the Bank of England and the Royal Bank of Scotland to get him. It will have to be the Bank of Czech as well for Tomas.’

Yet any encouragement, even whimsical, is noted. The way to quell speculation is to refuse engagement. Instead Moyes, talking even reluctantly of considering offers, is as good as putting a For Sale notice up.

It has taken West Ham nearly four years to get over the 2017 sale of Dimitri Payet. Rice’s departure could have a similar impact. Indeed, with him now missing for a month, Moyes may get a chance to glimpse the future without one of this country’s finest midfielders. Enjoy.


Pep Guardiola will be surprised to hear he was critical of Borussia Dortmund at the weekend. Manchester City’s coach was full of praise for them, but said they spend a lot of money on agents, in order to recruit young players. And they do. That is how Dortmund operate.

They cannot compete with Bayern Munich for the best German talent, or with the elite of Europe for the leading players outside the Bundesliga, so have found a third way. 

They recruit young prospects, who are cheaper, give them first-team football at a big club and sell them on.

Borussia Dortmund's policy of paying high agent fees works with the players they recruit

Borussia Dortmund’s policy of paying high agent fees works with the players they recruit

To facilitate this scheme they reward the intermediaries, who have to sell Dortmund’s vision to the player and his parents. The agent is paid twice — once by Dortmund, then in an even bigger payday when the sale occurs — and the player is put on a fast-track to the top.

Erling Haaland will be 21 and playing for one of the continent’s biggest teams next year, his first-team place guaranteed. Could he have got there as swiftly by joining Real Madrid two years ago? Martin Odegaard, 23 in December, is still not there.

Guardiola merely pointed out that Dortmund’s business plan involves a considerable investment in agents.

Is that really a criticism? It works, doesn’t it?


It was only Sergio Aguero’s sixth start this season for Manchester City at Leicester. He’s going to be a little rusty, after so many interruptions. Even so, is he really what Chelsea need? 

A fabulous goalscorer, yes, but at 33 next season one whose best days have passed.

If Manchester City have moved on, why would Aguero be a fit at Stamford Bridge? Frank Lampard went the other way, but he was only ever a squad player at City. Aguero would be Chelsea’s main man. Strange to be accepting City’s cast-offs.


Michy Batshuayi accused Roy Hodgson of a ‘lack of trust’ during his time away with Belgium. 

He would point to the six goals he has scored on international duty this season — although the first of his two for Crystal Palace that came in the 90th minute when 3-1 down at home to West Ham might better inform his manager’s judgments. 

Indeed across the last two years — since March 24, 2019 — Batshuayi has scored one more goal for club than country, but in 39 more games. Hence the trust, from both sides.


Ollie Pope says that Virat Kohli told him not to expect another flat pitch in India, as England piled on runs on the way to their first Test victory this winter. Pope says he took it as a compliment that India had to change their game-plan. 

Really? A compliment? Another way of looking at it would be that India felt England’s batting was so limited, they knew any pitch with a hint of spin would kill them. So it proved. 

Take the compliment route and England are still patting themselves on the back for a tour that saw losses in all three formats. Strip away the faux-pleasantries and recognise the remark for what it was. It might be worth addressing a fundamental flaw.

Ollie Pope should not have taken Virat Kohli’s comments about Indian pitches as a compliment 


According to the International Centre for Sports Studies, Jorginho is the third-best player in Europe. They reckon? He wouldn’t have been the third-best player in West Brom’s midfield on Saturday.

Sam Allardyce called it perfectly. Put pressure on Jorginho and he can be panicked into poor, conservative passing.

He was at fault for West Brom’s first goal, his covering was poor for several others and his slack distribution caused Thiago Silva to be sent off.

The numbers guys love him because he epitomises the modern conformity of possession at all costs. The same institute makes Granit Xhaka Arsenal’s best player. As with Jorginho, they tot up his many passes and the completion rate and think that makes a great midfield player.

Yet, like Xhaka, so much of what Jorginho does is safe and he can be hurried into errors. Allardyce laid a blueprint for beating Chelsea. If others follow this, it could be an interesting two months for Thomas Tuchel.

Sam Allardyce was right to say Jorginho can be panicked into poor, conservative passing

Sam Allardyce was right to say Jorginho can be panicked into poor, conservative passing


With Fabinho restored to midfield and Liverpool looking somewhere near their old selves again, it is asked why Jurgen Klopp did not alight on Nat Phillips at centre half sooner. 

Liverpool 0-1 Fulham, Liverpool 0-1 Brighton, Brighton 1-1 Liverpool, Liverpool 0-2 Everton — all games in which Phillips featured, the last as a 30th-minute substitute. 

So, yes, Klopp made other areas of his team weaker in his desperation to fill the hole in defence but let’s not pretend Phillips was an obvious solution.

It has taken him the best part of the season to look comfortable, whereas Fabinho was man of the match at centre back against Chelsea on September 20, even before Virgil van Dijk got injured. Nobody called for Phillips then.


No rain is forecast at Augusta this week and Lee Westwood has already played the course, noting ‘the firmest and fastest conditions I have ever encountered’. Westwood feels he knows why, too.

‘I don’t think they want 20 under to win this time,’ he said. 

That’s why you’ve got to love Bryson DeChambeau. From the committees to the clubhouse, he’s making everybody raise their game.

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