According to reports, the Chelsea board are considering replacing Jose Mourinho with Juande Ramos.
Read that sentence again and let it sink in. The Chelsea board are considering replacing the great Jose Mourinho with the man who left Spurs with 2 points from 8 games in his last spell in England.*
Jose Mourinho’s ‘specialist in failure’ jibe aimed at Arsène Wenger doesn’t seem so clever now, does it? Since that slur, both men have won two trophies but only one man has presided over a slump so disastrous their team sits 16th in the Premier League table one week before Christmas. It seems that the Chelsea players aren’t playing for their manager anymore and that the manager himself is trying to get the sack.
Mourinho was, to my mind inexplicably, offered a new contract at the start of this season, which he signed. It seems obvious, then, that no matter how bad things get, he’s not going to walk away from millions of pounds in compensation. Clearly, the Chelsea board would be reluctant to dole out yet another windfall to a failed employee (more so, Mourinho again) and I wonder if it is this situation, more than Mourinho’s reputation, which has created a rather bizarre stand off. Let’s face it, any other Chelsea manager who had ruled out the possibility of a top four finish before Christmas would be caviar on Roman Abramovich’s toast by now.
This situation has obviously come to a head following Chelsea’s defeat at Leicester City on Monday night. In downing the outgoing champions, Leicester ended Arsenal’s brief stay at the top of the table. It’s a measure of how despised Chelsea are that the universal reaction has been one of hilarity at their latest failure, rather than annoyance at us being knocked off the top of the table. I suppose it would be different if it was the last game of the season – at least, I hope so!
Can you imagine though, the meltdown had Arsenal lost nine Premier League matches before Christmas?
As it happens, we’re doing very nicely, thank you very much. Since we last spoke, Arsenal have scored five goals, conceded none and danced into the last 16 of the Champions League and another tie with Barcelona. Here, I doff my cap to Darren Berry, who had confidently predicted progression to the last 16 after we lost to Olympiacos, but before we beat Bayern Munich at home. The manner of our 3-0 victory in Greece came as some shock to me, without alarm or surprise. I mean, don’t get me wrong, by the day of the game I was confident that we’d do it, but to be 3-0 up with twenty minutes of the game left was more than I think anyone could have hoped for. I guess the word that springs to mind is: mature.
To me, this game and the almost casual dismissal of Aston Villa which followed it on Sunday, shows the effect of the signings Arsène Wenger has made over the last four years. Now able to shop at the top end of the market, rather than scrabbling around for bargains, we are seeing signs that this Arsenal team could end up being one of the best yet. I know that’s a big call, but think about our injuries and the players we have missing. In Cech, Koscielny, Ramsey, Özil and Giroud we now have a very strong spine to the side. I wrote at the beginning of the season of how our squad depth could sustain a genuine title challenge and, although the injury gods are doing their best to prove me wrong, it is only an amazing run of form from Leicester keeping us from the top of the table.
Speaking of which, I got an email from my uncle, Ebeneezer I call him, in response to an email asking if he was loving Mesut yet (he is still, inexplicably, pining for Cesc Fabregas).
“Cannot argue that he is having a good season with all his assists. However, he should be chipping in with 12+ goals a season and therefore he falls short of being considered a great. His refusal to take a shot at goal (particularly when it’s his best option) is disappointing. A great player has a certain arrogance and total belief in his own ability to make things happen given half a chance. For some reason Ozil lacks the confidence and does not want to take on the responsibility despite the fact that he’s undoubtedly got the required skills.”
I’m not sure which Mesut Özil my uncle has been watching this season, but it’s not the same one I’ve seen. Certainly not the Özil who leads the league for chances created, the Özil who has set up more goals than any other player and who has chipped in with a few too. Perhaps he’s been watching too many games with my old mate Harry. Or David Moyes. The conclusion I have come to regarding my uncle Stephen is that he can only be on a wind up, because he went on to say:
“I am still totally unconvinced by Arsenal this season and I think our current position is flattering and only a result of the other big teams being generally inconsistent and crap.”
I guess there may be a few of you reading this and nodding agreement with Livia Soprano – sorry my uncle – but if that is the case, might I politely suggest, as I have to my uncle, that you are missing the point? It’s not like Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs are suddenly going to find the magic switch and become great teams. Van Gaal at United only seems a few games away from a full on mutiny at Old Trafford (as anyone who listened to this week’s 606 knows), Liverpool are far too in and out to get close to the top three and Spurs? Well, they’re Spurs.
It is, of course, possible that Manchester City might hit the accelerator – though, hopefully not on Monday – but they seem a very fragile team at the moment. Whereas I think we feel like a more solid, reliable unit. Of course, there is a blue shirted, turbo charged, elephant in the room here and I think you have to accept that Leicester aren’t going anywhere just yet. As I said to Stephen yesterday, if you’re top after 16 games, it’s probably because you deserve to be, but can anyone see them lasting the season? Really?
No, for me, watching Arsenal over the last week was almost boring. As I said on this week’s Daily Cannon podcast, it’s a strange feeling watching us at the moment. A cross flying into the box, or a shot screaming towards goal? It’s okay, we’ve got Petr Cech. He’ll catch it, he’ll save it. I have these odd, out of the body, moments where I can almost see myself thinking these things. In the aftermath of levelling the Premier League clean sheets record, Cech’s worth to the team has been discussed by the likes of Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. I think it’s certainly possible that we have, as Alex Ferguson once did, signed a player without realising exactly how good he is.
As this article makes clear, aside from the calming influence Cech has had on the team, he has, not surprisingly, had a tangible effect on the number of goals we concede. Just 13 conceded in 16 games, just 4 goals conceded from 17 clear cut chances (as opposed to 18 from 16 last season), a percentage drop from 39% to 25%. Cech is second in the league for shots saved, with his 79% only bettered by Jack Butland of Stoke City and has kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper.
Simply put, the guy is on his way to being an Arsenal legend already – and Chelsea sold him to us! In doing so, they have given us our best shot at winning the title since 2004. No wonder Jose’s so upset.
Stephen’s just emailed me back. I’ll save that for next week…
*It was 2 points from 8 games right? I only ask as the guy who came next never mentions it.