The international break isn’t a very happy time for anyone in football. You never hear a fan say:
“Oh good, the glamour and excitement of the Premier League is over for a fortnight. Now, finally, I can see how Moldova are getting on.”
Equally, you never hear a manager say:
“Oh good, my players are all leaving to go and play for someone else, on an undulating excuse for a pitch in Moldova.”
If it sounds like I have a vendetta against Moldova(ns), I don’t. I have a vendetta against the international break. If anyone stands to benefit from this hiatal hernia in the season, it’s the players, who have at least the dubious honour of wearing their country’s colours. Even if they do have to go to Moldova.
However – and I concede I might just be projecting a negative spin on to this – it seems to me that this international break was particularly unenjoyable for Arsenal players as a whole. Let’s look at their fortunes on the field. The English pair of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott started off well, conquering their opponents in Chisinau, but Theo ended up vomiting his way out of the squad, whilst The Ox was part of a dispiriting 1-1 draw at home to Ukraine.
Abou Diaby’s international break had a similar trajectory – it started off well as he scored his first international goal against Finland, only to pick up a predictable niggle that could rule him out of Saturday’s game with Southampton. His France team-mate Olivier Giroud rounded off his iffy start to the season by being booed from the field in his country’s colours, whilst in the gallic U-21 side, Francis Coquelin managed to get himself sent off. Aaron Ramsey’s Wales got hammered by Serbia, Lukas Podolski’s Germany stumbled to a meagre 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands, and Gervinho went another week of his life without realising quite how desperately he requires a haircut. It was not a good week.
There was the odd highlight. Santi Cazorla struck for Spain, Conor Henderson scored a wonder goal for Ireland U-21s, and Gervinho knocked one in off the bar (presumably by mistake). But basically this week was conclusive proof that international breaks are the work of the devil.
Even those players left at home found themselves in trouble. Andre Santos’ run in with the law continues, whilst Bacary Sagna got a rap on the knuckles from the club for his comments about the sale of Alex Song. I have to say that whatever Sagna might make of goings on at boardroom level, I agree with Arsene that there is no questioning his commitment on the pitch.
Speaking of the board and all that, it is well worth reading the full Q & A with Ivan Gazidis that prompted all those ‘New Deal For Wenger’ headlines. What he actually said was this:
Presumably having led you through that tough period, you want to see Arsène Wenger lead you through those good time as well?
Gazidis: It’s not a sense of sentimentalism, not a reward for our services, it’s a belief that we have an incredible manager who loves this club and is the best man to lead us forward.
We’re really confident about the direction that the club is heading. We’re coming through strongly and we believe we’re really well placed. We hope and believe that Arsene will be a part of that as we move forward.
And of course he’s going to say that. Whatever your opinion of Arsene Wenger, I think we all accept that barring a complete on-field disaster he is here until 2014. At this stage, Ivan Gazidis is not going to say anything to undermine his position. Equally, we should all know by now that Arsene is extremely unlikely to sit down and talk about a new contract until he has entered the final year of his present one. It was ever thus. I’m not sure that this is really a story.
Anyway. Proper football is tantalisingly close now. Just one more sleep away.