My apologies for the late post but I was in Mexico over the weekend and am still here which has limited my access to the expansive coverage available to me on NBCSports.com and the associated apps. I got to see bits and pieces of the Premier League schedule but not enough to do my customary deep dive of a column. I'll be back with a full column heading into the international break. Before I get started thought, I'll make two comments about my travels:
- Playa del Carmen in Mexico is a fantastic part of the world and I encourage you to visit if you have the chance. There is an excellent combination of experiencing the culture and enjoying fantastic resorts that hasn't been available at every beach destination that I've been to (usually, the resort is great but it feels like it could be anywhere in the world).
- If anyone at Slingbox wants to throw me a sponsorship, I'm giving you a free plug as a measure of good faith. I was an extremely early adopter as someone who was a long-time management consultant who traveled frequently and didn't want to be without the content I was already paying for. Somewhere along the line my first generation SlingBox stopped working and I never replaced it. I have started traveling internationally much more for my job and my first purchase when I get home will be a replacement so I don't have to go without the Premier League again.
OK, on to some quick takes from the weekend in no particular order:
1. As frustrating as Arsenal have been to me, the Gunners aren't even close to being the most disappointing thing in their own neighborhood. Spurs are just not good. The miserable thing about it for Spurs is that it isn't as clear as it is at Arsenal. Whereas manager, center back, and the Xhaka issue are all clear things to be fixed one way or another, it seems much less clear at Tottenham Stadium where the manager certainly seems to be an issue but one wonders how well-suited any of the remaining parts (Kane and Ndombele aside) will likely be fit for the purpose of a new manager. It all seems incredibly Pochettino-dependent.
2. I have to admit that I didn't read the article but I saw a headline, I believe it was in The Athletic, about the notion that Frank Lampard has actually made Chelsea likable. After bullying the Premier League with Roman Abromavic's money, everything that we liked as a story about Spurs as they ascended with Kane, Eriksen, et al can be said about Lampard's Chelsea. There is something about a homegrown team, even if it isn't your team, that makes you feel much better about them doing well than the same results from a band of already-proven veterans acquired for top dollar. Of course, it also doesn't hurt that I bet on Abraham and Mount early in the season in fantasy and stayed away from Pulisic (until recently) and the defense (overall). Anytime I get good fantasy returns from a club I'm going to be positively disposed toward them. It certainly helps that Lampard himself has kept a low profile and let his kids take the credit rather than self-promoting what a genius he is for getting more out of them than any of us thought he could.
3. Leicester City are going to finish in a Champions League spot. I'm entirely convinced of it. The hiding of Southampton helped improve the statistics but I have to say that I'm still convinced that they have a couple more gears to hit when it comes to their week-to-week (non-St Mary's) performances. I'm incredibly optimistic about their prospects and hope they can keep players like James Maddison around to see what sort of legs this experiment has. Clearly, the sourcing of a Jamie Vardy replacement in the immediate future is a huge priority. Vardy isn't a dominant player in the Messi/Ronaldo mold but so much of what the Foxes do is dependent on his ability to convert when defense turns to attack that a hamstring tweak or a loss of pace, fully expected from a player his age sooner rather than later, would turn them from odds on top four candidates to middling in an instant. The Foxes have been able to find replacements for many of their departed title winners but their efforts to find a Vardy alternative/deputy have been fruitless thus far. That needs to change in January.
4. Before we get to the drama at the Emirates, we should pause a moment to reconsider Arsenal’s Week 9 loss at Sheffield United. The Blades’ 3-0 victory over slumping Burnley has them an astonishing sixth in the table. We, the fantasy PL community, have been marveling at John Lundstram all season but this continues to be an amazing story. For those who follow a more advanced flavor of analytics will know that goal differential is generally a better mid-season predictor of final spot in the table. We’re still early enough in the schedule that I wouldn’t suggest that the Blades are going to finish ahead of all of the sides whose goal differential is worse than theirs is now but what it indicates is that their current position isn’t as fluky as, say, Crystal Palace who currently sit at -4 goal differential. For those looking for a fantasy nugget in this column, Lys Mousset is on 20 points over his past three matches with two goals and three assists. He’s priced at 4.9 in salary cap and likely available in draft formats. Anyone belatedly looking for a Todd Cantwell replacement should be in the market.
5. And now to the main event, the discussion of the Mourinho-to-Arsenal elephant in the room. I get where this comes from. Arsenal are incredibly undisciplined at the back. Mourinho’s bread and butter is creating an organized base from which to operate that allows a few talented attackers (which Arsenal, conveniently has already) to flourish. Still, I don’t see it.
Mourinho, when he has been successful, has had the benefit of exceptional talents and the type of funds to mold a team in his image that just don’t exist at Arsenal. Setting aside his long-standing antagonism of the club and the disparity between his personal approach vs. the one Arsenal has always embraced as a club, the things that have predicted success for Mourinho just don’t exist at Arsenal unless he convinces the Kroenke family to spend beyond the club’s means. For all of the other bluster, it didn’t work at Manchester United because the club’s hierarchy and Mourinho disagreed fundamentally on the approach to the transfer market. It seems unlikely that Arsenal and Mourinho will be any more aligned. That disagreement will put Mourinho right back in the situation he found himself in at Old Trafford where he was dissatisfied with the current squad and was at odds with his bosses on how to change it. That, in turn, would put him in “me against the world” mode that would quickly descend into the chaos that characterized his time with the Red Devils.
Finally, if you need more practical reasons to avoid an Arsenal/Mourinho marriage, look no further than the young talent emerging from the academy level at Arsenal. Even in his pomp with Inter and Chelsea (the first time) Mourinho was known to favor bringing in established veterans rather than living with the mistakes of youth. The club seems to understand its place in the financial pecking order and that to survive in the face of clubs with the financial strength of Manchester City then it has to more closely resemble recent vintage Spurs sides and current vintage Chelsea with rising youth balancing out the cost of established stars. For every Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang there have to be a couple of Joe Willocks and Eddie Nketiehs to make the money work. The raw materials seem to be present but the manager needs to be willing to bring them along. There’s no evidence that Mourinho is that guy.
Like I said, I get the visceral reaction to the current situation and how Mourinho’s reputation as a manager seems like the perfect antidote to the perceived softness of late-era Wenger sides that seems to have made the leap to Unai Emery’s sides as well. It doesn’t take long to break through that flimsy logic. I can certainly see the case for moving away from Emery. The side is neither better than when Wenger left nor are they showing signs of improvement despite significant turnover in the playing squad. Emery has left three players out to dry in Xhaka, Ozil, and Mustafi leaving them virtually valueless on the transfer market. It is time for him to go but Mourinho is not the man to bring in.
Reconsider Arteta? Sure. Consider Patrick Vieira? I don’t love it but I get it given his solid-if-not-spectacular managerial experience and standing within the history of the club. Go entirely outside the Arsenal family to a rising star of the managerial ranks? That would certainly be my preference as I don’t believe even a little bit in the notion of bringing in someone who “knows the club”. It has always struck me as an excuse to be lazy in sourcing candidates. Sure, it works every once in a blue moon as it is with Frank Lampard at Chelsea right now or as it did briefly and spectacularly with Zidane at Real Madrid but, more often, it looks like the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer situation where a “club legend” is given a chance that no one else in their right mind would give them because of his playing history. If no one else wants to give them a top flight job, maybe that should be your clue that your club that wants to be fighting for a Champions League place shouldn’t be either.
Again, apologies for the abbreviated and adjusted column. I’ll be back with the regular version next week.